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Oceanside Strips Canyon Of Vegetation To Deter Homeless Encampments

Oceanside Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery surveys a section of the canyon near Inte...

Photo by Alison St John

Above: Oceanside Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery surveys a section of the canyon near Interstate 5 that crews recently stripped of vegetation, Sept. 6, 2017.

Homeless encampments are reappearing in an Oceanside canyon that was partially stripped of trees to discourage overnight camping.

Homeless encampments are reappearing in an Oceanside canyon that was partially stripped of trees to discourage overnight camping.

KPBS profiled some of the residents who inhabited the canyon on city-owned land between the Goat Hill Golf Course and Interstate 5. They were evicted when heavy equipment arrived in August and cleared virtually all the undergrowth and most of the trees from a section of the canyon that bordered the freeway.

What was once lush green and overgrown is now a desert of dried bark.

Oceanside Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery said the vegetation was removed in response to a public outcry about the threat to public safety posed by people who are homeless living in canyons. But he said the strategy has not solved much.

RELATED: Life In An Oceanside Canyon: Homeless Take Up Residence

“We have removed trees and native landscape brush, and all that’s happened is that the people who lived down there have moved to other areas,” he said. “So focusing on this area that’s completely out of the way, we have removed their habitat, and they’ve gone out into the neighborhoods.“

Lowery said some canyon residents dispersed to more public areas, like the beach.

Photo by Beverley Woodworth

The Oceanside canyon next to Interstate 5, May 31,, 2017

“Just because we remove the habitat, we did not directly remove the people,” Lowery said. “And we can’t, because those people aren’t breaking any laws. It’s not illegal to be homeless. It’s not illegal to be a transient who’s moving through Oceanside.”

Lowery said Oceanside staff have estimated the city spends $400,000 a year on managing people who are homeless, but he believes this is a conservative estimate.

“Because when we look at the staff who are working full time to deal with homelessness or transient issues, whether that’s the police or fire department or our staff who pick up the trash and so forth, it’s got to be easily half-a-million dollars we are spending here,” he said. “But we don’t get any visible result from that, we just get to move people from here to there and make sure there are not problems.”

A visit to the canyon revealed that tents are again appearing in parts of the canyon that were not stripped of trees. At the entrance path, long time resident "Jimmy" has put up a small tent where he keeps an eye on comings and goings.

Photo by Alison St John

Oceanside canyon resident, "Jimmy," next to an abandoned campsite, Sept. 6, 2017

“They wiped out the whole front end, a lot of people dispersed,” he said. “There’s still some here that consider this home and they’ll stay here — me included. This will always be home, my heart’s here. A lot of people just moved to different locations, more out of the way, not so readily accessible, but they’re still here, living and going on with their lives.”

This year’s Point in Time Count by the Regional Task Force of the Homeless identified more than 2,000 people who are homeless living in North County.

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