City of Goleta Responds to Concerns About Recent Homeless Encampment Fires
Source: City of Goleta
The City of Goleta is aware of the growing and understandable concern from the community surrounding two vegetation fires in the last two weeks that were started in homeless encampments along the Highway 101 corridor between Fairview Avenue and Los Carneros Road. We understand this a serious public safety concern and we do not take lightly the risk to life and property posed by these encampment fires. We are deeply grateful to our first responders for their quick response and work to knock these fires out quickly, but we recognize that these fires had the potential to cause great harm.
While we are not alone in dealing with homeless encampment fires and homelessness in general, it is admittedly one of the most challenging problems we face as a city. We are constantly balancing how to help this vulnerable population with the need to protect community members from the hazards associated with homeless encampments.
COVID-19 has complicated the issue of what the City and allied agencies are safely able to do to address homeless encampments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, unless individual housing is available, clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community which increases the potential for disease spread. The City, along with regional partners, is following the guidelines put in place during this pandemic for the safety of our community. The City has partnered with the County of Santa Barbara to support people experiencing homelessness in Goleta who are at greater risk if infected with COVID-19 by placing some of them in individual rooms and providing others with access to beds at PATH in Santa Barbara. Yet, we recognize that these options aren’t enough to get Goleta’s homeless population off the streets.
Mayor Paula Perotte said, “Prior to COVID-19, the City has been active and successful with clearing debris from homeless encampments and has collaborated with allied agencies to conduct cleanup efforts along the Highway 101 Railway corridor. In September of 2019, a four day clean-up resulted in the removal of more than 12 roll-off dumpsters full of debris.”
It’s important to note that the City does not own or control the involved property, which is owned by Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) or Caltrans, depending on the location. However, because of the critical nature of this corridor, the City created the UPRR/Highway 101 Corridor Safety Task Force over a year ago to increase interagency communication and plan actionable steps to keep the area clean and safe. The group met last week and are coordinating a plan to thin out the weeds/shrubs/fuel along the Highway 101 corridor.
The City is in close contact with outreach workers who make contact with homeless individuals living in encampments on a weekly basis and work to connect them with services. The City logs every complaint regarding a homeless encampment and subsequently sends an outreach worker to the location. We are also working closely with law enforcement and our Sheriff’s Community Resource Deputy to increase activities in identifying and visiting homeless camps with our support services team to do everything we can to prevent future fires.
The City is in the final stages of drafting a comprehensive Homelessness Strategic Plan to holistically address the issue of homelessness in our community. The plan will help guide and coordinate efforts to prevent and address homelessness in the City of Goleta. The plan will be presented to the Homelessness Issues Standing Committee next week on July 22.
While the City respects and understands the need for the public health guidance discouraging homeless encampment clean-up efforts, it also recognizes the need to maintain the safety of homes and businesses near these encampment fires. Staff will continue to work diligently to prevent these fires in the future.
To report a homeless encampment, please contact Shanna Dawson in the Neighborhood Services and Public Safety Department at [email protected] or via our City Assist system https://tinyurl.com/GoletaSubscriptions by going to Submit a Request and then clicking on Homeless Encampment/Illegal Camping.