Santa Cruz city manager addresses health and safety concerns at Gateway homeless camp

Santa Cruz city manager addresses health and safety concerns at Gateway homeless camp

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - The homeless camp behind the Gateway Plaza Shopping Center in Santa Cruz is closed, but community members still had questions. On Friday, City Manager Martin Bernal released a statement addressing those concerns.

He began by writing that the city's intent is to prevent health and safety emergencies, especially after documented fire hazards and exposure to diseases. From there he addressed three main concerns: camp cleanup conditions, needles and cleanup costs.

Bernal says city staff have worked together to cleanup the camp. He says staff were prepared with training and protection, and hazmat technicians have been brought in for the most hazardous work. Staff were told not to eat or drink anything in the camp and to wash their hands and shoes when they leave. He added that all necessary supplies were provided.

During the cleanup process, needles were found at the camp. Bernal says staff used mechanical pickers to get the ones in the open, but tractors cleared tents that may have had needles in them. When necessary, he says workers were advised to use gloves, eye protection, foot protection, long sleeves and Tyvek suits.

In the statement, Bernal also addressed the number of needles found at the camp, saying, "While there are rumors that 'thousands' of needles were recovered during the clean-up, workers did not keep count, nor could/did they decipher where the needles came from. Our staff estimates that the number recovered was in the hundreds."

As to cleanup costs, Bernal says that while the cost will be significant, the city has not come out with final numbers yet because the cleanup is still going on. He says as soon as they have an idea of what the cost will be, that will be shared with the public.

He concluded the statement by saying that as a city, its role is to balance the rights of the homeless while ensuring the safety of the community, "Unsanctioned homeless camps present a serious risk of a catastrophic tragedy. The clean-up of the Gateway camp has been respectfully, safely, and efficiently executed."

While a majority of the cleanup is done, the city still has to go in and remove 6 to 8 inches of soil they say is contaminated. That is expected to get done next week. 

They said they will secure the area to make sure no other encampments pop up.

Bernal also adds they are working on other permanent solutions. He says they need to face the underlying issues of homelessness if they want to make progress.

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