Watsonville takes on homeless issues

Watsonville takes on homelessness issue

WATSONVILLE, Calif. - According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in 2017, homelessness grew for the first time in seven years.

It's a trend that we've seen here on the central coast, but Watsonville is trying to change that.

So many times we've covered stories about homelessness in Salinas and Santa Cruz, but it happens everywhere on the Central Coast.

The Mayor pro-tem of Watsonville is now trying to do something about it in his city before the issue gets out of hand.

Watsonville Mayor pro tem Jimmy Dutra took KION cameras on a tour of homeless encampments in the city.

Many of them are along the sloughs, where encampments can be disguised amongst the dense brush.

One near main street and auto center drive is littered with garbage and other debris.

“The impact that homelessness is bringing into our communities when it comes to the garbage that being left out and the needles and feces was a lot more than I had expected," says Dutra.

Another site at Harkins Slough and Ohlone Parkway is being cleaned out, with crews clearing out the thick vegetation.

Most of the people who were camping there, gone. Watsonville is seeing a small uptick in homelessness.

According to the Santa Cruz county homeless census, there was a 15-percent increase from 2015 to 2017. Watsonville saw its homeless population grow by 23 people.

The Pajaro Valley Shelter Service helps between 150-200 people at any given time. And there are always between 50 to 60 families on a waiting list for help.

"The reasons that people are in need of shelter is domestic violence, experiencing domestic violence, foreclosure, loss of job, shared housing where families are not getting along with roommates and so fort and you see that much more now than maybe, ten years ago," says program manager Annette Melendez.

While they're doing what they can to help the homeless crisis, Dutra says he wants to step up and help also.

He says it will start with bringing more resources to the area to give people the services they need.

"I'm going to be on the forefront of this cause. I've been there, I've been in the trenches. It's something i'm going to continue to work on. To me, it's the number one issue facing us here in the Pajaro Valley," says Dutro.

He also encourages businesses to lock up their dumpsters to prevent people from rummaging through the garbage and keep the waterways clean.

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