Caltrans cleans up homeless camp in Redwood City
Newsom visits site, mayor seeking further action on ‘health and safety’ issues
February 24, 2022, The Daily Journal
Efforts to clean up a homeless encampment that recently caught on fire in Redwood City caught the attention of Gov. Gavin Newsom who visited the site Wednesday as crew members worked to break down the well-established site.
“All of us should be ashamed of the unconscionable status quo that sees too many Californians essentially discarded by our society,” Newsom said in a statement after learning of a woman’s death from a different fire at a San Francisco encampment Wednesday.
The encampment Newsom visited on Wednesday sits on land owned by the California Department of Transportation. A fire broke out at that encampment on Sunday, Feb. 13, resulting in no injuries but causing property damage to a fence of a multifamily residence, two cars, tents, mattresses and other personal property. An investigation deemed the cause of the fire undetermined, according to a press release from the city.
Redwood City Mayor Giselle Hale said Caltrans officials quickly answered her call for an immediate response to the health and safety issue, launching Wednesday’s cleanup and scheduling crews to clean two more encampments in the city in the coming weeks. Caltrans did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“That was the first step,” Hale said. “This is about dealing with the health and safety issues for residents first and then work on the long-term solutions.”
As for addressing the long-term concerns around encampments on Caltrans land, Hale said a meeting between city staff, legislative representatives and the agency is anticipated in the near future.
Encampments have become a growing concern in Redwood City, home to the highest number of unhoused residents in the county compared to other municipalities, according to the county’s 2019 One Day Homeless Count which found more than 1,500 people were unsheltered in the county.
At that time, a majority of homeless residents across the county were living in RVs or cars with about 24% living in encampments, tents or on the street. More up-to-date data will be released this year after the county’s single-day count on Thursday, Feb. 24.
The city and county have backed programs aimed at addressing homelessness and housing insecurity and continue to pursue additional initiatives in the name of achieving functional-zero homelessness, meaning being homeless would be rare, brief and never chronic in the county.
A Safe Parking Program was launched by the city in late 2020, offering RV dwellers a place to park their vehicles while receiving services including support with finding a permanent home and staff is currently developing anti-displacement policies that will be included in the city’s Housing Element, a statement mandated process that requires the city to prepare for more than 4,000 homes to be built in the next decade.
And with state support through Project Homekey, the county has been able to purchase a number of hotels mostly to use as temporary housing. In total, the county has received $117 million from the program which started out as Project Roomkey, an initiative spurred by the pandemic to get homeless residents off the street and into safe housing.
Of those funds, $33 million will also go toward establishing a modern 240-bed navigation center in Redwood City which will provide residents with wraparound services like job assistance and medical support.
Hale noted street teams affiliated with the county and nonprofits have routinely engaged with homeless residents including the estimated 20 to 25 people living at the sites Caltrans is now cleaning up. Hale said the goal is to ultimately get people into the county’s system, placing them at the top of the list for emergency housing and eventually connected to permanent housing.
“We have actually been out offering services to many individuals for months. … Some will accept and some will not,” Hale said. “This is an emergency response situation but the city has numerous efforts to address housing in a much more sustainable way.”