Riverside now enforcing ban on homeless encampments in bottom of Santa Ana River

Rob McMillan Image
Sunday, November 6, 2022
Santa Ana River camping ban now in effect in Riverside
A ban on homeless encampments in the Santa Ana River bottom is now in effect in the city of Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- A ban on camping in the Santa Ana River bottom is now in effect in the city of Riverside after the city council approved the ordinance earlier this summer.

The new law is meant to address the dozens of homeless encampments in the river bottom, and the fire danger they pose to the surrounding area.

"We respond into the Santa Ana River at least once a day for some kind of vegetation fire, warming fire or cooking fire," said Riverside Fire Captain Greg White. "And that doesn't include all the calls for medical aid along the river."

White estimates that there are at least 40 homeless encampments in the portion of the Santa Ana River that's located within the Riverside city limits.

"Our main goal is to make that connection and establish trust with the community down here to hopefully get them into housing," said White.

"If we find an abandoned camp, or items that have been left, we'll tag it and in 48 hours clean it up. We're not down here forcefully removing individuals from their homes, but we're going to continue to provide that outreach as we move through this process."

"They've been coming around," said one resident who preferred not to be identified. "A lot of the people who live here have mental problems; so where would they be going to?"

Riverside resident Karina Bravo said she's been living in the river bottom for more than six years.

"(Officials) tell us to move and leave. We leave our belongings and they come and bulldoze us, and we have nowhere else to go."

Bravo lives in a portion of the river bottom that's outside the city limits, so the ban on camping doesn't apply to her. Still, she said she's been trying to find more permanent shelter, but it hasn't been easy.

"I'm still waiting for them to give me some kind of assistance for me to leave the river bottom. This has been going on for a couple years now."

Not only do individuals living in the river need to go through the process of obtaining vital documents, like social security cards and other forms of identification, but they also need to apply for housing and fill out rental applications.

"I would say since we started in August, close to half the individuals are in some stage of the process," said White. "Whether it's getting provided vouchers for critical documentation, or an apartment application. Some of these people have lived down here for 10 and 20 years, and so having that connection with them has been critical to our team as we work with them."

Riverside city council member Clarissa Cervantes was the only vote against the ordinance when it passed in August.

"Where are they going to go?" asked Cervantes earlier this summer when she spoke about the ban on camping. "How are we going to help and support these individuals when my office is unable to house people who are calling us right now?"

But Riverside city council member Erin Edwards, who was a driving force behind the new ordinance, said the city is trying to balance the importance of having a safe environment for residents with needs of the homeless.

"We have been working tirelessly to make sure we understand how many people need shelter, what kinds of shelter, and how can we do our best to get people there."