San Luis Obispo on Tuesday cleared an encampment along Bob Jones Trail that was home to dozens of unhoused residents ahead of a winter creek cleanup and construction project.
However, the city is facing a lawsuit for forcing unhoused people to leave similar camps in the past. And advocates say the cleanups have more to do with clearing the unhoused from public view, rather than trash removal.
“Sweeps actually cause more trauma than doing anything,” said Tim Jouet, a community member who works with unhoused residents. “... I don’t think it’s worth those trade-offs.”
City clearing encampments for creek cleanup, fence reconstruction
Unhoused residents have long camped along the trail, which stretches from Prado Road along Highway 101 to Los Osos Valley Road. The Prado Road trailhead is down the street from the 40 Prado Homeless Services Center, and the trail provides an element of privacy and access to San Luis Obispo Creek.
The city periodically forces those living along the trail to leave, and workers follow to remove trash and belongings.
San Luis Obispo’s Community Action Team (CAT) and social workers began giving unhoused residents a seven-day notice on Nov. 29 in advance of the cleanup, said Greg Akavian, the city’s director of Parks and Recreation.
There were about 25 people living in the area, he said. The first part of the cleanup began on Monday, and residents had to leave by Tuesday, Akavian said.
“The encampments had over a week to start gathering items and moving out,” he said.
Akavian said the city annually cleans up the creek area ahead of the winter rains. It usually takes place in October, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed things until December, he said.
The cleanup involves removing trash and debris, as well as clearing vegetation, he said. The city is also preparing to install new fencing along the trail, a project that will likely begin in mid-January or early February and will take a few weeks.
Akavian said the city tries to be as accommodating to unhoused residents as possible, but it’s important for them to have access to the area to complete maintenance projects.
“We’re not here to cause an issue with that, but it’s illegal to camp in an open space or a park overnight,” he said.
Unhoused residents struggle to find places to go in SLO
The city is currently dealing with a lawsuit filed by a group of unhoused residents and homeless nonprofit Hope’s Village that says San Luis Obispo officials clear encampments without providing people with adequate places to go.
Akavian said the city communicated with 40 Prado and the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) in Atascadero to inquire about housing availability.
All encampment residents who requested services would be accommodated, he said.
However, shelters’ “one-size-fits-all approach” doesn’t work for everyone, Jouet said.
He pointed out, as did the lawsuit, that it’s challenging for unhoused people in San Luis Obispo to find a place to go if they don’t have any money because they’re always kicked out of public spaces.
The people who end up moving from encampments are already struggling, Jouet said. Having to leave the area where they’ve been staying just adds more stress for the sake of trash removal, he said.
“Rights are supposed to apply to everyone, even if you don’t like them,” Jouet said.