Santa Rosa police to clear out homeless from park, saying conditions pose a fire hazard

Police on Wednesday plan to clear out a homeless camp in Santa Rosa because they say the conditions there pose a fire danger. 

People who live at Fremont Park were packing up Tuesday night because as of 7 a.m. they could be forced out.

The Santa Rosa Police Department warned the 100 campers who live there they have to leave or they could be cited. 

This comes after another sweep under highway overpasses and in other parts of Santa Rosa.

Officials say the says the size of the encampment at this park is a health and safety risk.

Fremont Park is next to several homes and a school and neighbors say they don’t feel comfortable given how large the encampment has gotten – it’s the biggest one in the city.

Residents near the park have also been calling police with concerns. 

"There's been a lot of fireworks going off in the middle of the night," said Katie Whitaker, a mother of two who lives across the street and says she not longer goes into her front yard.

"I don't know what the solution is but this isn't it," said Whitaker, who said she is empathetic to the plight of the homeless, but frightened by drug dealing, fights and erratic behavior she sees.  

"It's become out of control and it isn't safe, and I want everyone to be safe, even the people living in the park." 

The Santa Rosa Fire Department has recently put out several fires that started in or near homeless camps so they say it’s a real threat.

"Whether it's recreational fires, warming fires, cooking fires, and signs of burned grass, burned vegetation, that with this close proximity to these homes we're seeing here, it's a risk we can't allow to continue," said Asst. Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal. 

Local fire agencies have responded to numerous other fires recently- both brush and structure blazes- that originated in or near homeless camps. 

"Whether it's recreational fires, warming fires, or cooking fires, when we see burned vegetation, and with this park's close proximity to homes, it's a risk we can't allow," said Lowenthal. 

Despite the risk, people who live at Fremont Park say they’re anxious about yet another move.

Advocates say the city should’ve stepped up and provided more sanitation services to keep the camp cleaner.

They say the reason this encampment got so big is that people had nowhere to go after other sweeps.

"These people are traumatized, they're sad and they're scared, and they don't know where to go," said Heather Jackson of Sonoma County Acts of Kindness, a volunteer group that supports un-housed individuals. 

Jackson complains that the city provided only one portable toilet, despite requests for more sanitation, hand-washing stations and garbage service. 

Volunteer organizations came in regularly to help clean-up. 

But the park, not even 2 acres in size, became overwhelmed after other homeless encampments: a popular trail, pasture land, an industrial park, and downtown underpasses, all were swept in succession. 

"This is a family out here, this is a community, and this is rousting people from their homes for no apparent reason," said Jackson. 

Social service outreach teams have been canvassing park dwellers, trying to find shelter placements for those who are willing. 

Sonoma County has an estimated 3,000 homeless individuals, about 1600 of them in Santa Rosa, and a total of 1000 shelter accommodations.  

"It's pretty stressful doing this over and over and over," said one woman, on the eve of eviction. 

Many campers will try to stick together, wherever they end up next.  

"To be honest, I'm feeling kind of exhausted, but I'm determined to keep going," said a camper named Will, who said he wasn't sure where he would go on Tuesday.