The City of Ventura is unique, compared to other coastal cities, because we are also bordered by two rivers. These open areas have historically been places where individuals who cannot (due to certain constraints) or will not get help, live. These unsheltered individuals choose to live in the river bottom for various reasons, including but not limited to solitude, protection from the weather, economic factors, lack of available housing, addictions, mental illness, friends/family in the area, etc.
Martin V Boise, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case that was decided in 2018, found it unconstitutional, against the 8th amendment, to cite any individual for sitting, lying, or camping on public property if the City does not have appropriate shelter beds available. Due to being bound by this decision, the City cannot ticket or remove individuals from the river bottoms because we have nowhere to relocate them safely.
The City and partners have multiple efforts within the River Bottoms to have a presence with the population, making sure that they are connected to services, are being seen by healthcare professionals, and interact with law enforcement almost daily.
Backpack Medicine goes into the river bottom once a month to connect with individuals in the encampments to offer health care, vaccines, behavioral health care, and time with social workers. This consistent presence of support helps decrease the number of 911 calls and emergency visits from the unsheltered community. It offers connections and outreach to help build trust and work on assisting individuals into housing.
Once a week, the Whole Person Care Pod/One Stop is outside the Santa Clara River Bottom and the Ventura River Bottom near the Avenue to offer a medical clinic, supportive services, and showers to the unsheltered.
Once a month, Safe & Clean, the City/County Outreach Worker, and the Patrol Task Force pass out trash bags to individuals in the encampments and encourage them to bag their trash. The following day the Safe & Clean team picks up the bags and disposes of them properly. The engagement with this initiative is vast, with hundreds of bags being removed each month.
Abandoned encampments and those that pose a significant risk to the waterways are designated for monthly clean-ups. If the camp is active, the Patrol Task Force and Outreach workers connect with the individual multiple times, no less than a month in advance, to let them know about services and the pending clean-up. When a clean-up site is chosen, the individual is told that they can keep any belongings they’d like and tell us where that area is; all other materials left behind are considered debris and are removed. The individual is allowed back to the site if it isn’t in the direct waterway to the River, and we work closely with them to make sure the area stays clean.
- We pride ourselves on knowing who is in the river bottom, and the Patrol Task Force makes near-daily visits to offer links to services and be a presence to ensure safety.