RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A new ordinance that will outlaw homeless encampments along the Riverside city portion of the Santa Ana riverbed has put the focus on efforts to get those living there to accept help.
But trying to connect people with resources is not easy. That's where the city's Public Safety and Engagement Team (PSET) comes in. Their job is to engage a difficult-to-reach population, build trust, cultivate relationships and get them to at least try some of the options being offered.
The ordinance is supposed to take effect on Nov. 4th, but don’t expect teams of police dragging people out, against their will, on that day. They accept this will take time, and the team will try to get as many people as possible into some kind of housing or drug treatment program by then. Drugs seem to be a common denominator in the encampments, which make efforts to help people that much more difficult.
Despite the difficulties, the team has had success. The new ordinance does not establish any civil penalties for living on the riverbed, rather the ordinance recognizes that the city has to provide resources to those impacted.
Living on the riverbed is dangerous. Fire officials said they are constantly dealing with fires started in the camps that can easily spread in the overgrown brush. With the rainy season approaching, even in a dry year, any rain raises the level of the Santa Ana River to the point that water rescues are common.
The encampments are within the wildland interface area where crews from the Riverside County Flood Control & Water Conservation District are initiating a four-year project to fortify levees and mitigate flood hazards between Jurupa Valley and Riverside. With that going on, both sides of the channel will have to be off limits to anyone trying to camp near the river.
There is a timeline, and the city is looking for more people to help. The Riverside Police Department has openings available on their website JoinRPD.org. The city is also looking for civilian outreach workers. People with experience in homelessness issues are encouraged to apply through the City of Riverside's website here.