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Lompoc declares homeless riverbed cleanup a local emergency

The Lompoc City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to declare a local emergency as it pertains to the homeless issue and cleaning up the Santa Ynez Riverbed.

By declaring the issue a shelter crisis and the cleanup a local emergency, that gives Lompoc the ability to request help from the state and federal government, which could bring in FEMA.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, the triage center has been bumpy,” said Chief Pat Walsh, Lompoc Police Department.

With the October 10th deadline looming for the end of the triage center, city officials are still grappling with Lompoc’s homeless issue, leaving the 30 clients currently sleeping at the city-run resource at an impasse.

“Drug dealers are calling out and sending signals to folks that are in the triage center and people are going in and out of the riverbed using drugs. Traffickers are coming in looking through the tents looking for women,” said Chief Walsh.

“I feel safe at the triage center right now. I always have from the first day I walked in but now, I’m a little apprehensive with what’s going to happen to me,’ said Regina Schmidt, a homeless woman utilizing the triage center.

Lompoc Police have made 10 arrests in the riverbed since last month, along with three in the triage center.

“If they’re allowed to go back in the river, this was all for not and we’ll be back at this in a couple months,” said Chief Walsh.

While officials continue to patrol the riverbed, Chief Walsh says the foliage, trash and waste is unmanageable. “It takes a full day for two officers to walk that three miles and we miss a lot,” he said.

Which is why the Lompoc City Council is hoping the state can step in and provide funds and support.

“It’s a very expensive process. Right now we’re at a half a million dollars possibly with the initial cleanup, it could go more, we don’t know, so we need to ask for any help. We can’t, the city can’t go this alone,” said Jim Throop, Lompoc City Manager.

As the city works on emergency relief, they’re now also trying to figure out how to front the cost before the rains come.

“If we don’t do it now before the winter comes, I don’t, and I know the City Council doesn’t want to see all that trash being washed out down the river out to the oceans,” said Throop.

Cleaning up the area poses significant challenges due to the landscape.

“They’ll be lowering down, with a boom, a large dumpster situation. The team down there will be by hand, loading hundreds of tons of trash over many days bringing it back to the top of the riverbed taking it to the dump and repeating that and repeating that. It’s going to take a very long time,” said Throop.

A similar request is being brought before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

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