By Emily Paz

Lompoc is home to the highest poverty rate in Santa Barbara County at 20.8%. The homeless population has created a community in the Santa Ynez riverbed which runs through Lompoc and quickly became an unsafe environment due to its lack of patrol and a high concentration of at risk homeless persons living in the same vicinity tucked away from the everyday bustle of urban living. The riverbed was accumulating a monumental amount of trash and debris creating a hazard. In September of 2018 a mandatory riverbed evacuation was implemented and all persons living in the riverbed were relocated. A triage center opened at River Park for approximately a month for those evicted from the river bed to stay until plans were made to find another option for housing. 

Pastor Brian Halterman is a staple at Lompoc’s SBDWW clinic held every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month at Trinity Church. He is also head of Lompoc’s Bridge House and it was only natural that he helped lead the triage center at River Park. Pastor Brian remarked, “The riverbed move changed a lot of lives their lives and ours.” He has seen many positive outcomes from the riverbed evacuation. There has been a person successfully housed, several homeless reunited with family, and some have gone into programs for rehabilitation.  In addition to the successful placements of some the riverbed was cleaned. In the end there was a removal of approximately 463 tons of trash and 54 quarts of sharps. This has cost the city approximately 500,000 USD of which there has been no confirmed contribution from the county or the state. 

It has been almost a year since the big move and unfortunately it seems that all the good work is unraveling. Being a Lompoc resident there are walking trails I frequent that pass over the riverbed and there are already encampments built. Lompoc police department is understaffed which conflicts with the consistency and availability of patrol units to effectively keep the homeless encampments from reappearing. 

With no concrete follow up plans to regulate the riverbed I anticipate the homeless population to reoccupy the riverbed to its former state. It creates a hazardous environment for not only citizens, but largely for the homeless population that are living in this environment. It has become a double edged sword, where does this at risk population of people find shelter when they are shunned from everyday society, but creating a perilous self-governing community in the riverbed is not a safe option either. For now SBDWW Lompoc clinic helps ease some hardships for the homeless offering reliable medical care.