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Petaluma police set to evict residents of Steamer Landing homeless encampment

Petaluma police are gearing up to close one of Petaluma’s largest homeless encampments next week, prompting many at the Steamer Landing encampment in downtown Petaluma to scramble for another place to stay.

Manning Walker, Program Manager for SAFE, said the Petaluma Police Department plans to give notices to residents at the encampment in Steamer Landing Park, located off of D Street near the SMART tracks, on Saturday and Monday. Officers will then conduct an eviction sweep on Wednesday, with plans to fence off the property for good late next week.

The move, which Assistant City Manager Brian Cochran confirmed Wednesday, is the first major effort to clear the area of campsites since late April, when police rousted about two dozen residents there.

Cochran noted that the eviction is in part due to a violation of a California Fish and Game code, which states that camping and depositing waste is prohibited within 150 feet of a river.

“We really view enforcement of camping on private property or near the waterway as a last resort,” Cochran said. “And so we make every effort to make sure that folks can get into housing, can get case management and can get services before we were to do any enforcement activities.”

Walker said that the particular location where residents have camped out for several months happens to be a strip of privately-owned property near public land. Now, that property’s owner is taking action following a number of complaints.

“The land owner apparently had been receiving some feedback from neighboring property owners as well as people that he knows in the community that it is time to do something, that it’s an eyesore, a source of pollution and it’s a frustration to the neighborhood,” Walker said.

Encampment residents said that they are not necessarily surprised by the planned eviction.

“I saw it was coming. I knew it was coming,” said Matthew Erickson, who said he had lived at the encampment for several weeks.

Meanwhile, many are saddened by the loss of an encampment they said has grown into a family-like community.

“It just makes me want to fall apart,” said Janine Naretto, who goes by “Ma” to the other residents. “(People here) help with food, cooking, they help me get around a little bit. If I can’t get up, they’re there to pick me up.”

Naretto said that she and multiple other residents are still unsure of what’s next for them.

“I’m so sick of moving,” Naretto said. “I don’t know where we’re going to go. We’re all asking each other ‘where are we going?’ We don’t know. I’ve been here a year and all of a sudden, now we’re a problem.”

Sarah Gossage said she has been homeless since her mother was murdered 28 years ago when Gossage was just a teenager. Following the planned closure of the Steamer Landing encampment, Gossage said she plans to head back to Sausalito, where she had lived in years past.

“I have friends there, so I can go there and still have a hug when I need it,” Gossage said. “But if it wasn’t for that, I would have to just roam around here. I don’t know what they want us to do with ourselves.”

Walker said that a number of resources are being offered to those residents, with the Committee on the Shelterless offering a place to stay at the Mary Isaak Center shelter on Hopper Street, and the Downtown Streets Team surveying residents during outreach events in order to sign up those who are eligible for county-based services. Those resources may not be enough for the little amount of time the residents have to vacate the downtown property.

“Unfortunately the reality of the situation is there is not adequate placement for those folks,” Walker said. “Even if the local shelters took people in as rapidly as they possibly could, because of the fact that they have limited admits at a time due to COVID risk, it would still take them a number of weeks to house everyone who is there currently.”

The Petaluma City Council earlier this month approved a project that will provide 25 “tiny home” housing units to homeless residents as part of an expansion of the COTS shelter. However, because city officials expect the $380,000 project to be completed no earlier than the coming winter, housing remains a primary concern for those who will be forced from the Steamer Landing property.

“I get social security and I can’t afford squat around here,” Naretto said. “They want $1,200 for an itty, bitty bedroom. Forget it.”

Cochran said that, though there is a couple-month gap before the “tiny homes” are up and running, he believes it will help ease some of the City’s housing concerns.

“That will be really exciting for folks’ ability to move from a tent or some type of outdoor encampment into one of the interim tiny home units, and then that will also assist with case management services to get them into more permanent housing,” Cochran said.

Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus Courier. She can be reached at amelia.parreira@arguscourier.com or 707-521-5208.

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