APD clears out homeless encampment at Arcata Transit Center


by Andres Felix Romero

Jacob Sroto, an Army veteran without a home, slept in a cramped encampment at the Arcata Transit Center after being kicked out of a shelter. There were other houseless people that occupied every inch of free space, except for the building’s doors nearby. While using the portable toilet, Sroto would notice rats scurrying nearby. Soon after his arrival at the transit center, he and other residents of the encampment were given notice by police officers that they were trespassing and must leave, despite the wet and cold weather conditions. 

On the morning of Thursday, March 2, three officers of the Arcata Police Department (APD) removed an encampment of roughly a dozen houseless people outside the Arcata Transit Center. This encampment had been inhabited and growing for at least a month according to City Engineer Netra Katri, who was present at the transit center the day after the removal.

“There was one big tent right there,” Netra said, pointing out a wall near the transit center, “and the next day it was gone.”

The City of Arcata brought a large dumpster to toss out the belongings of the houseless individuals. Paul Geyer was present at the transit center during the removal and described the police as trying to be supportive to the individuals they were removing.

“They were separating the stuff people might want,” Geyer said. “Guitars, cookstoves, probably a dozen propane tanks, stereos… all kinds of stuff.”

Despite this attempt at civility, encampment residents such as Oscar Featherman felt that they had a right and protection to be on city property, especially with the winter weather warning in place.

“They executed an eviction,” Featherman said. “You can’t evict people when it’s those kind of conditions.”

There was about a three weeks’ notice given to the residents of the encampment. The notice cited violation of state laws on trespassing and camping. The notice also said that there have been concerns raised by resident and business owners about health and safety conditions of this location including the presence of rats, drugs, human waste, and debris.

Over the course of the pandemic, the city of Arcata became more relaxed with houseless people living on city property. However, APD Sergeant Brian Hoffman noted that the conditions and size of the encampment prompted the removal. 

“At that point it’s a health issue,” Hoffman said. “We tried to offer services to the people. It’s up to them if they act on those or not.”

Present alongside trespassing notices were groups trying to offer services and support to the transit encampment residents. One group present the day of the removal attempting to offer support was the Arcata House Partnership (AHP), a grant-run program of over 30 years that seeks to advocate for and support houseless indindividuals.

Prior to the day of the removal, AHP successfully offered services to Sroto by offering him a place in an extreme weather shelter in their housing project known as The Grove. 

“They told me, ‘this is gonna get cleared out anyway and the weather’s gonna get real bad, you wanna come for this?,’” Sroto said. “Everyone didn’t hesitate with [the offer]. Anything’s better than staying at [the transit center].” 

The extreme weather shelter is one of many programs run by the AHP directed at supporting the unhoused. They have other locations that offer services and advocacy for houseless individuals including bag lunches delivered by truck, mailing addresses, case managers, showers, sobriety assistance, assistance with EBT and finding shelter, gas cards and more.

Tanya Rodriguez works for the AHP at their Grove housing project. She feels that the programs are needed for those who don’t know how to navigate the system, and because many are only one situation away from being houseless themselves.

“Once you’re down on your luck, then you realize how easy it is to be right there,” Rodriguez said. “For many of us, it’s just one hospitalization that will suck everything you own out the door. One hospitalization, one natural disaster, one disability, one car breaking down.”

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  1. lyn matthews lyn matthews Wednesday, March 29, 2023

    Thank You to the cohesive efforts of all involved. I don’t have to add, this problem is not only local but National & Global. It will not get better. I suggest, as a community, we ALL work on being one of the places that effects a solution.

  2. Jacki Cahill Jacki Cahill Wednesday, March 29, 2023

    Thank you to Arcata House Partnership for supplying shelter to the unhoused. I can’t imagine a night outdoors in this weather, much less a lifetime. I have a ministry called God-Snacked and we feed people in McKinleyville and the Valley West area of Arcata. As people who work closely with the unhoused we wish we could do more. Solutions need to be found for people who are unable to fit into housing norms. Not everyone is equipped to live indoors. Because of this we need to find places–possibly tent communities that are overseen, and structured to meet the specific needs of this group. Ideas I’ve heard are met with so much pushback that possible solutions rarely come out of the talking stage. I understand very well the messes and problems that come with this group. However, if people were able to test out some great ideas that exist and be given enough time to work out the glitches within them, possibly we’d have workable models that could be successful here and act as examples for other small communities. Clearly, something’s got to give. No matter how people feel about this sometimes unlovable group, they are after-all human. In this uncertain world we need to take care of each other–and sometimes that’s messy. Sometimes it requires us to try out solutions that don’t match up with our preferences. In order to take steps forward to solve this problem, we need to want to find solutions. With this in mind, please, if you can’t help, don’t hinder.

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