Riverside shuts down large-scale homeless encampment

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- A couple of months ago, a homeless encampment behind a row of businesses near Hole Lake in Riverside was one of the largest of its kind in the area, but that's not the case anymore.

Wednesday around 7 a.m., a joint effort between city and county agencies resulted in a massive cleanup of the encampment. Police estimate approximately 40 homeless people were offered support services, and if they refused were told to leave.

The property is a public dirt road, with a row of industrial businesses on one side, and a creek on the other. The homeless have been in the area for more than a year.

"We were asleep, and they came in giving us half an hour," said Kevin Snyder, who lived in the encampment. "It's actually pretty kick back and relaxed."

Snyder is one of about two dozen who refused services. He told Eyewitness News he does not want to seek services at local shelters, because he'll be separated from his girlfriend and their dog. He's waiting for government help to find him housing.

"Everywhere you go they want to split you up," said Snyder, who's also worried about losing his dog. "We rescued her as it is, and we're not going to lose her again."

Riverside police said they've identified 55 homeless people living in the Hole Lake encampment over the past few months. So far, the city has helped 24 of them locate housing. Some had already left before the cleanup operation.

Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey hopes today is a turning point for many of them.

"Our hope today is that ultimately the individuals engaged here know now that it's time to find another life," said Bailey. "Because it's not safe for them. And it's not safe for the neighborhood."

Nearby business owners are appreciative of the cleanup efforts, but are skeptical it will have much of an effect.

"They're just waiting it out," said business owner Chris Begley, who pointed out several displaced homeless people who simply moved across Doolittle Avenue to private property.

Begley said one of them told him he was just waiting for public officials to leave, before he sets up camp again.

"He said, 'Yeah, they're cleaning up, and I'll be back here tomorrow.'"

The city of Riverside's Police Public Safety and Engagement Team released numbers showing the difficulty city officials are having with getting the homeless proper help. Of nearly 1,700 contacts with homeless people in the city limits since May, only 19 have accepted help.

Those numbers don't include many of the people who were asked to leave Hole Lake and have subsequently sought help at local shelters within the past few days.

Riverside County's Office of Homeless Solutions was also on hand Wednesday, offering behavior health services, drug and alcohol addiction and recovery services, as well as help for pets.

"Some people might be down here because it's out of the way and they can't be seen," said Natalie Komuro of Riverside County's Office of Homeless Solutions. "Some people are heavily addicted and this where they can be using.

"Each person is going to have a different story and a different reason."
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