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Eight arrested during sweep at Petaluma homeless camps

In the latest effort to curb a growing problem with illegal camps, Petaluma police swept through local homeless camps this week and warned transients to clear out.

Eight people were arrested during the operation for a variety of crimes, including trespassing and illegal camping, Lt. Ken Savano said.

Officers discovered two new camps and posted signs warning people against trespassing. They handed out information pamphlets about homeless services in the city to individuals they contacted and warned five people to leave the camps.

While the city has cleaned up more than 100 homeless camps in recent years, a survey identified 34 illegal camps throughout Petaluma.

“With 34 active encampments, the Police Department is finding it difficult to patrol, enforce, and cleanup these sites that become a haven for illegal activity and dumping,” police said in a statement.

Those arrested or cited included a 32-year-old Petaluma man who had managed to build a large camp along Willow Brook Creek near Old Redwood Highway in the month since his last arrest in connection with illegal camping, Savano said.

Steven Alves was previously arrested March 25 at Corona Road near an overpass of Highway 101, Savano said. After the March 25 arrest, the Police Department arranged for a team to return to the site and clean it up, which required heavy equipment.

“We just finished cleaning his old camp at Corona Road and the highway overpass, and now the same person has relocated to Willow Brook Creek and created a whole other set of environmental and public safety and dumping issues,” Savano said.

Cleanup is the biggest challenge, particularly with camp trash and human waste in close proximity to the city’s creeks.

A special team of officers goes out periodically to homeless camps to give out information about homeless services, warns people to vacate the area and sometimes makes arrests. The Police Department then arranges for cleanup to be done by a probation work crew, public works staff or volunteers.

“We’re not keeping up with the problem,” Savano said. “We don’t have the resources to go out and clean up the day we do enforcement.”

Police also were investigating the origin of a high-end bicycle they found during their sweep of encampments, Savano said.

The other camps police visited Tuesday include settlements near Lynch Creek and North McDowell Boulevard, an area near the old Sunset Line & Twine Building off Lakeville Street and the Pomeroy Lot on Hopper Street near the Petaluma River.

Camping in Petaluma is illegal unless at an approved and permitted campground. Savano urged residents to contact police about homeless camp concerns at 778-4372.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.?johnson@pressdemocrat.com. ?On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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