It’s a sandy, rocky and lawless landscape that many people have made into their homes.
The Lompoc Police Department believe there are 60 to 70 campsites back in the Santa Ynez Riverbed, but how many people are currently living in there isn’t really known.
Lompoc Police Officer Mauricio Calderon is the new homeless liaison for the riverbed.
He says just about every crime imaginable is happening out in the riverbed: rape, human trafficking and even murder.
“When there’s no police presence, anything goes on,” Officer Calderon said.
All of the campsites and structures will soon be removed. On Tuesday, the Lompoc City Council voted to allow the police department to begin serving riverbed inhabitants eviction notices as part of phase one of their clean up plan.
“Gotta move people first, the belongings that are valuable to them go with them and then the second phase will be what are we going to do with the debris that’s left in the riverbed,” explained Chief Patrick Walsh of the Lompoc Police Department.
This clean up will be a massive undertaking however. First everyone who lives here will be evicted and given the option of moving into a triage at the River Park. The police department hopes they can reunite as many people with their families as possible before the 30 days are up.
“We’re hoping that when the day comes, we’re done and no one will be in the river so that we don’t have to take enforcement action. Our approach has been it’s coming, you’re going to be removed, what can we do to help you?,” Chief Walsh said.
We spoke to one woman living in the riverbed who asked to remain anonymous. She says those who live in the riverbed have been warned by police for months that something like this would happen.
She hopes for compassion as she and her campmates try to figure out what’s next.
“What we say that comforts us is Jesus was a homeless man and we think that kind of calms people down and opens the door and gets people on the same level.”
A triage center is going to be set up at River Park where people will be able to live in tents and get access to help they may need to get back on their feet.
One fall back of evicting people from the riverbed however, is those who choose not to accept services may move into the community.
The Lompoc Police Department is asking local businesses to sign up to allow them to patrol their property.
“That’s helpful to us after hours and on the weekends so we can say hey you can’t be here on this door stoop,” Chief Walsh said.
On Friday these eviction notices will begin to be handed out and non-profits will begin their outreaches at river park to start rehabilitating those who leave.
The city is also asking for donations to help them with this undertaking as they don’t have enough money in their budget to cover the hundreds of thousands of dollars it may cost to restore the riverbed.