Kayla Younger has been living in the Lompoc riverbed for more than a year and a half. She gets emotional as she looks around her camp and talks about the home she is being forced to leave. “This is all I have, and now I will have nowhere,” she said.
Younger walked Santa Barbara Independent staff to her dog Chevy’s grave site, picking up plastic bottles on the way. The site is marked by a cross and flowers that others planted for her. “That’s why it’s so hard to leave,” said Younger. “We genuinely care and check in on one another.” When Younger was short on cash, friends would bring her dog food and treats. She cleans up around the grave and waters the flowers. The site will most likely be destroyed in cleanup efforts.
Younger is one of more than a hundred individuals who received notices of trespass a month ago. “They came down and posted letters on camps and trees and stuff letting us know we had 30 days or they were going to force us all out,” she said. By the morning of September 10, most people had already moved away, leaving behind most of their belongings. Abandoned camps were marked with red signs reading “Eviction Completed” in bold black letters. “It’s pretty much just having to throw away all of our stuff — anything we can’t carry,” said Younger.
It’s unclear where everyone has moved, or will move, now that they’re being forced out of their homes. What is clear is that Lompoc’s Riverbed Homeless Triage Center (RHTC), a temporary center set up to take in the displaced for the next 30 days, is not a popular option. “I know a lot of people aren’t going to be picking that triage,” said Sean L., who’s been living along the riverbed for the last six or seven months. “A lot of people here can’t be around a lot of people,” he said. “They have anxiety, mental breakdowns.”
“Everyone told me not to go to the shelter,” said a 20-year-old who did not want to be named. “The cops told me to stop being homeless,” she said. “Everyone is unhappy. It’s the homeless becoming homeless.”
While those still at the camp were having a difficult time leaving, everyone on Monday morning was complying with the eviction notices. “There’s been complete cooperation,” said Lompoc Police Chief Patrick Walsh. “It’s been very smooth all day today.”
Santa Barbara County Public Defender Tracy Macuga was also at the site Monday morning with her team of social workers and attorneys, offering everything from water to veteran and substance-abuse services. She and her team are familiar with the community. “This is what we do, too,” said Macuga. “We care about the community’s most vulnerable individuals.” They also understand this community and some of their needs. “These are really big goals law enforcement is forcing them toward,” she said about getting them to the triage center and connecting them with services. “Sometimes what they need is food and calamine lotion,” said Macuga, having just returned from purchasing water bottles, protein bars, and calamine lotion.
“The real tragedy is the lack of services,” said Erica Bottorff. “There is only one detox in Lompoc, and it’s often full.” Throughout the county there are maybe 30 beds for detox, she said. Yet most shelters require sobriety for entry, an almost impossible feat without proper assistance. While the RHTC does not require sobriety to check in, clients cannot actively use drugs or alcohol while on the property. The center has a number of other rules and regulations that may deter potential clients. First, the center is by referral only, and not all walk-ins will be allowed onto the site. While animals are allowed in, dogs will be muzzled and held in kennels. Curfew, lighting, and noise regulations must also be followed.
“You have to be in and out [of shelters] at a certain time, and you start feeling trapped and like a guinea pig or something,” said Sean L. “It’s not something anybody would like. Especially when you’re in and out of jail because you’re homeless, then it’s definitely something you don’t want to go back into. So you don’t go. It just reminds you of jail.”
The RHTC opened September 10, the day of the evictions, in partnership with the Santa Ynez Riverbed Plan for Lompoc. The triage is a temporary, 30-day fix where clients who are admitted are offered social services, including drug and alcohol counseling, and mental-health services. On Monday afternoon, only 14 individuals had checked in. But they’re expecting anywhere between 30 and 50, said RHTC Director Mark Ashamalla. “The goal is to provide services for whoever wants and needs them,” said Ashamalla. He clarified, “This is not a promise. It’s not solving homelessness — just clearing out the riverbed, and because we displaced them, we’re trying to help.”