SANTA CRUZ >> Wednesday, Santa Cruz City Manager Martin Bernal announced a plan to relocate the city-managed 1220 River St. homeless camp to the National Guard Armory in DelaVeaga Park.

The River Street camp will close within a week, two months earlier than expected. A necessary water pipeline repair requires the camp to close by March 15.

The move came quickly and unexpectedly. The Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness, a volunteer group guiding city policy on homelessness, was not consulted. Before the announcement, city staff hosted a meeting with the neighborhood to hear their concerns.

Bernal spoke to Santa Cruz Local’s Kara Meyberg Guzman by phone Friday.

What are the logistics of the Armory site?

  • The Armory site is temporary. It’s set to close in March. The camp would continue to be managed by the Salvation Army. It would be funded 50/50 by the city and county. The cost to rent the site is $4,500 per month.
  • People will continue to sleep in their private tents, indoors, with heat and access to bathrooms. They will be required to use the city’s shuttles to get to and from the site.

Why did the move come so quickly?

  • Unseasonably cold weather and a chance to increase capacity, Bernal said. The 1220 River Street Camp has 60 people in tents. The Armory would allow for 80 tents indoors.
  • “Staff at the Salvation Army and residents there have just been more miserable, I think, than in the past,” Bernal said. “We’ve had rain, water, some flooding. The conditions have been pretty bad this year. It was really more a recognition that the conditions are really bad, and what’s the humane thing to do here,” Bernal said.

Are the city and county still working to replace the VFW Winter Shelter program?

  • City and county leaders announced this fall that they were collaborating to replace the winter shelter that formerly operated at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7263 on 7th Avenue in Live Oak. The program did not reopen this winter due to lack of funding.
  • The Armory and the VFW post were two sites under consideration this fall. The VFW post is now off the table, Bernal said Friday. Repairs are needed at that site. Also, the Salvation Army would be stretched too thin to manage that site, he said.

The Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness recommended to the city council last month the opening of a new emergency shelter this winter, in addition to the relocation of the 1220 River Street Camp. In the city’s view, does this move to the Armory fulfill that recommendation?

  • Mostly, Bernal said. “March is around the corner. It’s two months. Completely realistically, we need to focus on what happens after that. This does do a couple things. It does increase capacity. Not as much as we hoped, but it also improves conditions for the River Street campers. This is the reality that we’re facing this year,” Bernal said.
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Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. ​Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.