A large-scale clean up led by a collaborative stakeholder group of the County of Ventura and city partners will take place in the coming weeks in the Santa Clara river bottom to begin watershed cleanup, removal of encampments and the relocation of homeless individuals by connecting individuals to safe shelter and supportive services to assist with longer term housing placements. This effort builds upon existing supportive programs and services. It will include future efforts in other targeted areas of the County. The group of stakeholders will continue to meet over the coming months to coordinate the cleanup project and look forward to hearing community perspectives throughout the process.
In recent years, the number and size of homeless encampments in the river bottom have significantly increased pointing to the need for long term solutions for unsheltered individuals and posing a threat to public health, sanitation, and environmental health. Multiple causes have worsened homelessness and encampments in the river bottom including reduced capacity at homeless shelters due to COVID-19 safety protocols, economic impacts of the pandemic, a statewide affordable housing shortage, enforcement challenges, among others.
The collaborative effort, supported by the Board of Supervisors, is led by the County of Ventura's Executive Office working with the Supervisors of the impacted areas including the Offices of Supervisor Carmen Ramirez and Supervisor Matt LaVere. Other partners include the Cities of Oxnard and Ventura and community partner organizations. County departments involved include the Human Services Agency, Health Care Agency, Ventura County Sheriff's Office, Fire Protection District, Public Works Watershed Protection District, General Services Agency, and CEO Community Development Team and Community Liaison.
The effort is part of a coordinated approach to address the short-term watershed cleanup project and the long-term homelessness challenges to prevent the displacement of homeless individuals to nearby urban areas. County and city coordination is a key aspect of the effort to facilitate direct outreach and assistance to homeless individuals and successful placements in shelter and housing.
Building on Existing Homeless Programs and Housing Support
Together, the county and cities have made significant program efforts and financial contributions towards preventing and ending homelessness by investing in staffing, services, shelter and housing solutions. 500 people who would otherwise be unsheltered were placed in hotel rooms across four hotels in Ventura County. More than 200 individuals are sheltered in motels as of early August 2021. In 2020, there were over 2,300 persons experiencing homelessness that accessed services through the Continuum of Care homeless services system with over 1,200 individuals being placed into housing. The Ventura County Continuum of Care Alliance is a collaborative group dedicated To promoting a safe, desirable and thriving community by ending homelessness in Ventura County.
The County’s establishment of the coordinated entry system, countywide homeless management information system (HMIS) and 8 one-stop service centers across the County have helped connect individuals to a range of housing and support services including whole person care, recuperative care, food assistance, rapid housing, emergency shelters, permanent supportive housing, and transitional housing among other services. In recent years, emergency shelter capacity in Ventura County has grown thanks to increased funding from the County and cities, coupled with state funding. These financial contributions have created and supported low barrier emergency shelter programs, including Project Roomkey and seasonal motel placements.
In the last 2 years the Board of Supervisors has allocated nearly $25 million in federal, state and local funding to a wide range of homeless services and future affordable housing developments. While there has been an increase in housing placements in 2020 and 2021, there is increasing demand for homeless services that are balanced against limited resources available in affordable and permanent supporting housing.
Based on the needs of each homeless individual in the river bottom, efforts will be made to connect individuals to shelter and housing options funded by the County and Cities ranging from shelters, hotels, safe camping/parking, affordable housing, permanent supportive housing, and rentals among others. The County and Cities are exploring providing transportation to these options in addition to mobile showers, handwashing stations, property storage and restrooms if relocating to a safe camping location.
The effort will also include watershed clean up and removal of Arundo and Tamarisk, invasive species that pose particularly severe threats to the riparian ecosystem, including negative impacts to water quality, overtaking native plant species, increased flood risk, erosion hazards, and wildfire risk due to their highly flammable characteristics.
In preparation for the upcoming watershed cleanup, County Whole Person Care and numerous county agencies and partners (some pictured below) have been conducting direct outreach to the individuals in the river bottom to share available resources for shelter, healthcare, and basic needs. The County’s Watershed Protection District has been performing some cleanup of trash and debris and will provide trash bags and subsequent trash removal services for individuals modeled after Ventura’s Trash Bag Program that has been successful in the past for trash removal from the river bottom.