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Lompoc homeless triage camp

The last remaining tents in Lompoc's homeless triage camp at River Park are shown Tuesday.

The homeless triage center that had been set up at Lompoc's River Park was officially shut down Wednesday afternoon, as the final 19 clients left the campsite and city staffers worked to clean the area of all tents and other materials.

The center had been open for 30 days to provide a temporary living space for local homeless residents who had been evicted from the Santa Ynez riverbed. Several service providers remained at the site for the full 30 days to offer support — whether it was for drug and/or alcohol treatment, mental health, housing or other issues — to the people living there.

Lompoc Police Chief Pat Walsh said Wednesday that all of the campers left without issue and the closure went smoothly. River Park was reopened for normal activities on Thursday.

"It was very successful, very calm — no problems at all," Walsh said.

Walsh noted that almost all of the residents who had been living at the campsite left in vehicles, either with family members, representatives of support agencies or volunteers. Among those organizations that helped throughout the duration of the center, and with Wednesday's closure, were the Santa Barbara County public defender's and district attorney's offices, Planting a Seed and Americorps.

"It was a heck of a group effort," Walsh said. 

The triage center began accepting clients Sept. 10, the first day that people were formally evicted from the riverbed. A total of 69 clients were served at the center, according to figures provided by the city. Of those, the city reported that 33 made "positive" moves into housing, treatment or family reunification.

An additional 14 clients left by their own choice, 14 were required to leave because of rules violations, two were arrested and six checked in and received services but elected not to stay, according to the city. 

Resources will remain available to those clients, a city spokeswoman reported.

In a presentation to the Lompoc City Council on Oct. 2, Walsh said he was proud of the "compassionate" work that was done at the center, but he noted that several problems persisted.

Among the issues, he said, was that the center put a lot of drug addicts in one location, which made it easy for drug dealers to move in and make sales. He also said that people suspected of being human traffickers were kicked out of the campsite, and that people living there were asked to leave or were arrested for a range of rules violations, including drug use and/or outstanding warrants.

Walsh encouraged representatives of other cities to contact him before moving forward with their own similar plans, “so they don’t make the same mistakes.”

“Even with our faults and mistakes,” he said, “I still think we did it the right way, the compassionate way.”

The city will now turn its attention to cleaning out the riverbed, a project that could end up costing more than $500,000. City Manager Jim Throop said he plans on seeking financial assistance from the county, state and federal governments as the city looks to remove several tons of debris that had built up over several years as homeless people camped and built makeshift structures in the waterway.

The city is accepting donations from anyone who wishes to assist with the massive cleanup. Financial contributions can be made to the city's treasury division, either by calling 805-736-1261 or by visiting or mailing Lompoc City Hall at 100 Civic Center Plaza. City officials asked that any checks include a note stating that the funds should be designated for "Riverbed Cleanup."

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Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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