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Federal court rules Santa Cruz can clear homeless camps in San Lorenzo Park


By Felix Cortez

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    SANTA CRUZ, California (KSBW) — A six-month legal battle to remove the homeless from a popular Santa Cruz park has come to an end with a federal judge removing a roadblock that now paves the way for the city to go in and clear out the homeless.

Tuesday, Judge Susan van Keulen removed a court injunction that prevented the city from clearing out the park.

Despite the legal victory, city leaders said Wednesday they have no immediate plans to clear out the homeless camp from San Lorenzo park until alternative housing can be found.

“We will provide ample notice once those plans are in place we want the folks who are camping there to be able to land in another location and we’re not quite ready to make that move yet,” said Elizabeth Smith, spokeswoman for the city of Santa Cruz.

The original injunction was issued against the city back in January, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when the vaccine was in short supply. Dispersing the homeless posed a health risk according to homeless advocates.

But Tuesday, Judge van Keulen ruled that is no longer the case, indicating the pandemic has diminished and the vaccine is abundantly available to those who want it.

The judge dissolved the injunction but the city must act before the rains come.

“There is a natural timeline for the benchlands so when the rainy season comes we can not have camping there because of the flooding that happens and so we do have a deadline,” said Smith.

Keith McHenry, homeless advocate and cofounder of “Food Not Bombs” was a plaintiff in the case against the city and he says he’s not surprised by the court ruling, but McHenry still declared victory.

“Well I think the thing we’re most proud of is that we gave people six months of safety during COVID by succeeding at the original injunction and I think that’s landmark,” McHenry said.

As part of its plan to address homelessness, the city council recently approved an ordinance establishing a safe sleeping and storage program that includes developing 150 homeless beds.

The city was also recently awarded more than $14 million it plans to use to build a navigation center that will transition the homeless into permanent housing.

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