With the early stages of a planned cleanup of the Santa Ynez Riverbed already in motion, Lompoc Police Chief Pat Walsh sent a letter to the community on Friday outlining several ways in which residents can help with the “herculean” effort of cleaning out the waterway and assisting the many homeless people who currently live there.
This month, the Lompoc Police Department began issuing 30-day eviction notices to people living in makeshift homes in the riverbed with the goal of having all inhabitants removed from the area by Sept. 10. Lompoc Police Sgt. Kevin Martin said Tuesday that 66 such notices had been delivered, and Walsh noted in his letter that all of the notices were given in person.
After going over some of the aspects of the planned cleanup, which is expected to get underway after all the people have been removed from riverbed, Walsh included a section titled “How to help” that offered suggestions on how community members can aid in the multifaceted endeavor.
Walsh first addressed financial assistance.
“Many homeless have the ability to reconnect with support from family and/or a support system where they came from,” the police chief wrote. “It takes money to reunite those with their support systems. If there are funds to use for airline tickets, food, clothing for travel, then those who are willing can be reunited with their family.”
He went on to note that local Pastor Brian Halterman had started a mission, named Micah’s Mission, that is accepting donations for homeless assistance, including reunification funds. A link to, and information about, the mission is posted on the homepage of the city’s website, at cityoflompoc.com, and information also can be accessed on Facebook by searching “Micah Mission Lompoc.”
Walsh also encouraged community members to support local grassroots organizations that are working to help those people experiencing homelessness get back on their feet.
Organizations specifically cited by Walsh included Planting a Seed, which was founded by Lompoc resident Shawndel Malcolm, and Good Samaritan Shelters Inc.
Walsh also included other ways, besides giving money, that residents can help.
He noted that the second phase of the proposed plan, the actual cleanup, will require a “herculean effort,” as so much debris has piled up in the riverbed and on the nearby hillsides for decades.
“There are an estimated 60 to 70 camps and dumpsites that will need to be cleaned up,” Walsh wrote. “By removing the camps, structures and debris, it will eliminate the temptation to re-inhabit the camps. It will also reclaim the river as a safe and sanitary place to recreate and enjoy nature.”
He encouraged interested parties to download the Lompoc Police Department’s mobile app, which he said would would soon include information about how to volunteer for the cleanup.
The Lompoc Police Department dramatically stepped up its outreach to homeless people living in the riverbed when it assigned Officer Mauricio Calderon as a full-time homeless liaison in June. Walsh noted in his letter that Calderon and community partners have already helped several people reunite with family and find housing.
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Walsh said that several of the homeless people in the riverbed indicated that they intended to leave the Lompoc area after Sept. 10, which is the planned final date for removal, but he said he anticipated that many would inevitably end up moving into the city.
“As a business owner, you should be vigilant,” Walsh wrote. “Take steps now to deter homeless (people) from moving on to your property. Remove weeds and trim bushes that they can hide/sleep in. Clean up your property so it looks kept and attended (to). Homeless will often take up camp at locations that look neglected or unattended.”
He also encouraged business owners to reach out to police when necessary and not to “suffer in silence.”
“Contact the Lompoc Police Department and sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with LPD giving them authority to act as your agent on your private property,” Walsh advised in the letter. “The police cannot enforce low-level misdemeanor offenses on private property. This MOU will give the officers the ability to enforce trespassing laws on your property.”
That MOU arrangement doesn’t apply to private residences, but Walsh said the same advice does apply.
“You are the king/queen of your castle and if you call, the police will come and assist with any issues at your residence,” he wrote.
The issues surrounding homelessness and the riverbed have been a hot topic of conversation in the city ever since Walsh first proposed a cleanup to the City Council on Feb. 6. After taking several months to develop the plan, he went back to the City Council on Aug. 7 and received approval — as well as funding to cover police staffing — to begin implementing the early stages of the program.
Among other aspects of the proposal is the development of a triage center at Lompoc’s River Park that will be used to house homeless people who need it for up to 30 days. That triage center is expected to be up and running at some point before Sept. 10 and will be staffed by representatives from several organizations who will be able to offer services to the people living there, according to Lompoc city staff.
Walsh concluded his Friday letter by pointing to the phrase “Little Town with a Big Heart,” which he said he feels applies to Lompoc.
“I believe Lompoc can do this the right way and help those in need,” he said of the proposed cleanup. “We at the city have approached this effort with a compassionate heart and a desire to help the homeless. I would ask that you talk to your family, church family or service club and see if you have the ability to help. This help can be financial, manual labor, or with support of prayer and/or positive thoughts.”
Walsh wrapped up the message by noting that everyone seems to have an opinion on the correct way to go about resolving the problems of homelessness in the area, but he said that doesn't necessarily mean people have to be divided by it.
“Ultimately I am hopeful we will all work together to help those in need,” he said, “and at the same time make Lompoc more livable in the process.”