Heal the Ocean Tackles the Homeless Encampment Problem in the Santa Ynez Riverbed


By Hillary Hauser of Heal the Ocean

Heal the Ocean (HTO) has been involved in cleaning up abandoned homeless camps in environmentally sensitive areas because the camps often contain trash and human waste that can end up in the ocean.

In 2020, HTO Field Advisor Harry Rabin, known for his high-tech work through his company, On the Wave Productions began to survey homeless camps from Summerland to Goleta, using drones with high-power lenses and infrared capability. Harry visited the camps, photographing and talking to the unsheltered about their situations – while also asking them to put out their fires

Both City and County fire departments, together with Public Health workers, became interested in Harry’s work. His ongoing surveys have helped fire officials keep an eye on potential conflagrations. It has also provided useful metrics for housing and health authorities to justify ongoing efforts to house the unhoused.

Harry keeps an updated interactive map on Heal the Ocean’s website, accessible to all.

Stove fire at a homeless camp (Aerial photo by Harry Rabin)

ON WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, Harry and his son, Drake Rabin headed to Lompoc with On the Wave high-tech equipment. Their goal: to survey the homeless population in the Santa Ynez Riverbed. The survey was recommended to City Net Lompoc by Santa Barbara County Housing and Community Development Encampment Response Coordinator Lucille Boss.

City Net provides services for people experiencing homelessness, and Lompoc City Net official Keela Potter needed help in locating and assessing the number of encampments and occupants that had returned to the Santa Ynez Riverbed since it had been cleared out previously. State funding had arrived, and City Net Lompoc had a high need to assess what it could now achieve with such funds to help the homeless people living in the Santa Ynez riverbed.

Escorted by Lompoc City Net personnel – Charlotte, Denise and KC – Harry and Drake launched the On the Wave high-tech drone, and very quickly covered 5 square miles of the riverbed. They spotted a number of cars and trucks parked – or driving – in the riverbed. They captured minute information on each site – which included dogs, propane tanks, fuels, chemicals, and more. Some of the sites had crudely constructed shelters framed with makeshift roofs.

Most importantly, mountains and trails of trash were documented – all the polluting stuff that could wind up in wetlands and finally, the ocean.

Harry Rabin approximates least 26-30 individuals are living in the Santa Ynez riverbed based on the approximate 11 encampments surveyed with 2-3 being abandoned. See labels of each picture. Numerous fire hazards at over 50% of these sites. Approximately 2.5 square miles were surveyed revealing these encampments. This was accomplished in minutes by 2 drones with one having infrared capabilities. Both had high powered lenses to enable closer examination of site contents.  Human waste is being dumped into the riverbed as was evident is several of the photos.

Aerial photo by Harry Rabin

For Heal the Ocean, Harry and Drake will return to Lompoc to obtain more GPS data, and all of this information will be entered into Heal the Ocean’s interactive map. The ultimate goal of the work – and the map – is to help the unhoused get the help they need.

The final step is, of course, cleanup. Waiting in the wings for this important work for Heal the Ocean is Andrew Velikanje of Earthcomb  – a team of once-homeless workers, who will get into the riverbed to remove the tons of debris left behind.


Written by healtheocean

Heal the Ocean focuses on wastewater infrastructure – sewers and septic systems – as well as ocean dumping practices that have contributed to ocean pollution. They are focused on Santa Barbara County, but their methods now serve as a model for other coastal communities across the country. Learn more at https://www.healtheocean.org/

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    • The homeless that right wingers love to dump on (by their ideology, all victims are to blame and should be punished–like women who have unwanted pregnancies, generally caused by men) are a product of a capitalist, not socialist or communist, society. That alone doesn’t make capitalism bad, but it does highlight the hypocrisy of the right wing. If they were decent people they would, while lauding capitalism, also call for high tax rates to provide the sort of infrastructure needed to provide a good life for everyone — that’s how it’s done in Scandinavia where taxes are high, quality of life is high, and people are happy, unlike the grumpy right wing sourpusses who are always whining about the homeless or “illegals” or their taxes or money spent on rescuing hikers (that’s right, edney, that’s *your* people).

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