Local government officials will move next week to dismantle the Roseland-area homeless encampment that has overtaken part of a popular public bicycle and pedestrian path, leading to squalid conditions and at least two violent assaults in the past month.
The planned May 30 evictions, announced Tuesday, will result in the closure of a half-mile stretch of the Joe Rodota Trail to public use for two days or possibly longer, depending on what’s involved in cleaning up a mess that includes human and pet waste, used syringes, food and litter, according to Sonoma County Regional Parks, which owns and oversees the trail.
With a dump truck and police escort, parks personnel have made weekly forays into the growing settlement between Dutton and Roseland avenues to collect trash bags filled with debris and waste gathered by those living in 89 tents counted recently along the trail, which connects Santa Rosa to Sebastopol.
Last week, the 16-cubic-yard truck was full by the time it reached the halfway mark down the length of the encampment, said Meda Freeman, a Regional Parks spokeswoman.
“It’s a sad situation,” she said.
The setting also is unsafe. A homeless man was stabbed in the back on the trail last month, and a bicycle commuter trying to get by campers last week was punched in the face, causing several fractures. A male suspect was arrested a short while later, but his connection to the camp was not clear last week.
At least 740 people later signed a petition circulated by the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition asking for immediate action to address growing problems that have “created a dangerous and uninviting situation for trail users and bike commuters,” said Alisha O’Loughlin, executive director.
O’Loughlin submitted the petition to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning, hours before the cleanup plan was announced.
County officials said signs would be posted along the trail today alerting bicyclists and pedestrian users to the brief closure next week and letting campers know they face citations beginning May 30 if they are still squatting in the area at that point.
For authorities and homeless advocates, the looming challenge, once again, is where those chronically homeless residents who’ve erected tents along the pathway will go. Many came from a homeless camp on nearby county property in Roseland that was shuttered last month.
County officials insist enough capacity exists in the shelter system to provide a safe, secure, appropriate destination for all of those moved from the camp and willing to accept help.
But advocates and many in the homeless community acknowledge that distrust, past trauma and aversion to dormitory-style shelters effectively means that many trail campers will remain on their own. They rejected offers of shelter beds or other services when the county shut a two-year-old encampment behind the Dollar Store off Sebastopol Road.
Many who’d moved in there had been forced out of several Highway 101 underpasses months before, part of an ongoing series of public efforts to move illegal campers from one place only to have them settle elsewhere.
“This sweeping people, it’s not solving anything,” said Nick O’Brien, 48, who has been staying along the trail. “It’s not addressing anything.”
Another camp resident, Liliana Lopez, 24, said she was unaware of next week’s scheduled evictions. She said she could not go to a homeless shelter because she suffers from depression and anxiety that make it unbearable.