Area agencies investigate riverbed homeless camp in Soledad

Assistance and resources begin to come in as damage evaluated

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SOLEDAD — A recent multi-agency meeting concerning local homeless camps was discussed during Soledad City Council’s regular meeting last month.

Members of Soledad Police Department met with personnel from CalTrans and the California Highway Patrol, as well as other agencies to conduct a tour of the riverbed homeless camps under Highway 101 on Oct. 16.

“This was a site visit,” said Brent Slama, interim city manager. “There were two dozen people that converged on the site to take pictures and learn about conditions first-hand.”

The groups did head out with intent to issue hazard notices to property owners, but also to see the conditions of individuals living in the area and to find out the damage that had occurred.

“It really got CalTrans’ attention in terms of the infrastructure degradation,” Slama said. “They’re digging into footings and getting into the bridge structure itself.”

Damon Wasson, chief of police, added, “We had to get CalFire down there because of large, almost underground fires where the plastic and everything was being burned.”

Wasson said CalFire took care of the smoldering areas.

“CalTrans was worried because they got into the access panels underneath the overpass, which gives them access to the inside of the bridge structure itself,” he said. “CalTrans and CHP went under the bridge to see how they could re-secure the area. A lot of the organizations came in and offered help, offered medical care, offered to help try to find new places for these folks to live.”

According to Wasson, multiple agencies have offered to help, not only with social services, but also with supplies. He explained that while the area is in Monterey County’s jurisdiction, Soledad has been part of the investigation due to the proximity.

“It’s right outside the city limits, and we’ve had so much to do with this since day one, a lot of the folks are contacting us here,” Wasson said. “They’re basically working through us to get down into the riverbed.”

Currently, at least 25 individuals live in the scattered camp areas, Wasson said.

“It’s a pretty big area because it goes all the way over from the overpass and east towards the hills into the farmlands and the culverts and train trestle,” he said. “It goes up into the bamboo. It’s actually a walk when you’re there. We were a half mile from the river itself and ran into another person.”

In addition to the people in the area, discarded items have been found, including four vehicles that needed to be dealt with by the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office and its vehicle abatement efforts.

After the past several years of escalation, Wasson said resources have begun to arrive.

“Everybody’s finally getting on board with this and we’re finally getting started to get some resources down this way,” he said.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.