SANTA CRUZ – A homeless encampment known as Camp Paradise, which fought off city officials’ requests to leave over the past year, finally cleared out after a rainstorm caused the San Lorenzo River to spill into their Eden.
Four inches of rain fell last week, causing the river to rise and sweep Camp Paradise away. But its residents promise to rebuild.
“We’re going to set up Camp Paradise 2,” said camp founder Larry Templeton, 41. “We don’t know exactly where, but it’s going to be right here in Santa Cruz. It’ll work just like the first one, but we ain’t going to be close to the river this time.”
The residents of Camp Paradise – whose numbers fluctuated from 20 to 50 adults and children – managed a community kitchen, an office, a koi pond, a bicycle repair shop, a generator for power, a garden and dozens of tents for sleeping.
But the idea of allowing the homeless to camp in the city’s parks and greenbelt areas doesn’t go over well with everyone.
Critics say marijuana was freely used and even grown at the camp. And when the floodwaters receded this past week, city crews were forced to cart away tons of sodden debris, amounting to about 80 cubic yards of waste. Santa Cruz officials also provided $6,000 in motel vouchers to camp members after the flood came.
Homeless advocates say Camp Paradise was a well-managed, clean-and-sober refuge for former addicts. They say campers cleaned accumulated garbage from the riverbank and kept the area tidy.
In June, city official gave campers a month to move along. But that deadline, and others that followed, passed with no consequences. Police ticketed campers, only to see some citations dismissed in court, and penalties waived on four of the citations that were upheld.
Some city officials agreed that Camp Paradise received special treatment, but they chalked it up to the fact that the camp was well-managed.
Council members are now considering changes to Santa Cruz’s homeless services, including setting up a homeless campground in one of the city’s greenbelt areas or on land selected for a new city park.
Critics warn, however, that previous attempts to create legal camping for the homeless in Santa Cruz, including a tent city and car-camping zones, have failed.
“The minute you allow people to squat on public land, it’s a free-for-all, it’s a nightmare,” said Deputy Police Chief Jeff Locke.