Majority of sprawling homeless encampments near Azusa park cleared out by sheriff's team

AZUSA, Calif. (KABC) -- The L.A. County Sheriff's Department cleared out a majority of the sprawling homeless encampments near an Azusa park along the San Gabriel River bed Tuesday.

The encampments had been developing for years along Lario Park.

The operation to clear the encampments is not a quick fix. Sheriff's officials say Tuesday's operation is the first stage of four, and it could take about a month to fully clear out the encampments and remove all of the tents and trash.

The clearing operation was organized by the Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST) within in the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. The team, along with various partner agencies, have been working the area for a couple of years, and there has been progress.

Since April, there have been more than 30 outreach missions at Lario Park. During that time, about 40 homeless individuals have accepted shelter and mental health assistance.

After Tuesday morning's clearing operation, only a handful of homeless individuals were left, and the majority of the encampments were left abandoned.

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"This is an extremely high fire danger area. In this area alone, there's been over 70 fires in the last two years. So it's not only a public health issue, it's an extreme public safety issue that, this isn't a place for someone to be right now," said Lt. Geoffrey Deedrick with HOST.

Deedrick also said the homeless were facing dangers from the wild, like snakes.

As far as handling homeless individuals who do not want assistance, Deedrick said members of HOST build connections with the individuals, so they can open opportunities for people.

"Using the HOST model, we create windows of opportunities to create connections, so even those that might not accept help in the beginning, through our process, quite often, they do accept something, or understand the process, and it's not abrasive," Deedrick said.

Although "no trespassing" warning signs posted last week threatened individuals that they could be arrested, Deedrick said he does not expect that to happen.

Once the area is fully cleared out, officials say the Department of Recreation and Parks will be working on renovations for facilities like the bathrooms and park benches to make sure they're usable by everyone.

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