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The city of Lompoc’s sweep of the Santa Ynez Riverbed kicked into full gear Monday as the last remaining inhabitants were removed from the waterway, and the city-run triage center began accepting its first wave of arrivals.

Local homeless residents began arriving at the temporary triage center, which is set up in the northern portion of River Park, early Monday morning and people continued to set up camp there throughout the day.

Representatives from various service organizations were on hand to offer support information to the people utilizing the triage center, which is scheduled to remain open for 30 days.

Lompoc Police Chief Pat Walsh, who first proposed a full-scale cleanup of the riverbed to the Lompoc City Council on Feb. 6, said Monday that he felt like the riverbed eviction process and triage center opening had gone “extremely smooth.”

Walsh noted that the final 20 people were asked to leave the riverbed Monday morning and that each of them was ready and complied. As of late Monday afternoon, 21 people had set up camp at the triage center.

“From our perspective it went fantastic,” Walsh said of the final stage of removing people from the riverbed. “There were no arrests, no conflicts — very smooth.”

Life at the triage center

Danny Williams, 48, was among those homeless residents who trekked to River Park on Monday to look into the services being offered at the triage center. Williams, who said he had been living in the riverbed for a little more than two years, arrived via bicycle with his Shih Tzu, Little Boy, in tow in a carrier affixed to Williams’ bike.

Williams said he had long felt that homeless people should be offered support services if they were to get evicted from the riverbed, so he said he was glad to see that something was being done.

“This is a good thing,” Williams said shortly after checking in to the triage center around 10:30 a.m. “I’m going to take advantage of it and I’m glad they’re doing it. I couldn’t wait for it to start, personally.”

Mark Ashamalla, who has performed outreach to homeless people in the Santa Ynez Riverbed for the past five years, was contracted by the city of Lompoc to help run the triage center. Ashamalla, whose professional background includes working with people with mental illnesses and addiction issues, noted Monday that life at the center isn’t meant to be a solution or vacation.

“This is not a camp for horseshoes and volleyball and this is not a social hour,” he said. “This is about working on yourself. As our community is trying to help (homeless people) and lift them up, it’s for them to work on getting housing and jobs.”

The people utilizing the service are encouraged to bring their own tents and sleeping bags to the triage center, which is fenced off from the rest of River Park. The center is slated to have a security guard on site at all times, and the representatives from the support agencies are scheduled to be there during business hours, at a minimum.

The people using the center will be provided breakfast and dinner each day, and will be free to come and go as they wish.

“This is not a concentration camp; it’s not about fencing them in,” said Ashamalla, who estimated that 80 percent of the local homeless population were longtime members of the Lompoc community. “It’s just making sure they’re secure and safe, and we’re doing our best to help them.”

Help still needed

The Lompoc City Council has approved up to $80,000 so far for the cleanup of the riverbed — $40,000 for police staffing costs and up to another $40,000 to run the triage center.

City officials are hopeful, however, that donations and assistance from third-party agencies will help lessen those costs on the city’s General Fund.

Among the organizations aiding in the effort are Santa Barbara County, Coast Valley Substance Abuse Treatment Center, Family Service Agency, Prepare 2 Care, Micah Mission, Planting a Seed, Good Samaritan Shelters, the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center, and Overland Security Services LLC.

Walsh, who noted that police officers will patrol the riverbed daily for at least 30 days to ensure no one re-enters the area, encouraged residents who wish to provide assistance to make monetary donations.

Micah Mission, which was started by local pastor and homeless advocate Brian Halterman, is among the agencies soliciting donations. The mission is providing tents and sleeping bags for those triage center occupants who can’t provide their own, as well as food for the daily meals.

People can donate to Micah Mission at micahmission.com, at Chase Bank via account number 310597858, or by mail to Micah Mission, P.O. Box 1115, Lompoc, CA 93438. Checks, according to a city spokeswoman, should be made out to “Micah Mission” and indicate that they are for “Hope for the Homeless.”

“Every little bit helps,” said Walsh, who also encouraged donations to Planting a Seed and Good Samaritan Shelters, in particular.

The city is also asking that people donate sleeping bags, tents, blankets and/or pillows, by dropping them off at the Bridgehouse Homeless Shelter, 2025 Sweeney Road.

Additionally, Ashamalla encouraged community members with available housing or jobs to reach out to the city. Those opportunities, he said, could provide major boosts to people trying to get back on their feet.

Walk-in referrals to the triage center are no longer available, according to the city, but clients may be referred to the center by calling 805-345-0235.

Williams, who said his goal after the triage center is to relocate to Stockton to be with family there, said he was looking forward to accepting help after deciding that “I’m too old” for living on the streets.

“I hope more people take advantage of it,” he said of triage center. “It’s an opportunity. You can’t stay in the riverbed, so why not try to come and (work with) someone who’s trying to help you out.

“That’s what people complain about — that there’s no one trying to help,” he added. “Well, help is here. Now you just have to take advantage of it.”

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Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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