Homeless encampment grows along riverbed

Some of the tents and surroundings have become fairly intricate.

Alex Pena lives along the San Benito River bed with his “so-called other half,” as he put it. He and other homeless residents have pitched tents in a spot along the riverbed entering Hollister off San Juan Road that has become increasingly visible to traffic on the west-side gateway.
They’ve formed a small community defined by those colorful tents but also marked with such home-like features as pathways, gates and decorations. Outside one tent Tuesday, for instance, waved an American flag alongside a San Francisco 49ers flag.
On Monday morning at Pena’s tent, he was sorting through recyclables as he talked about the makeshift community. Though he expected to leave in a couple of weeks, after recent pressure from the city and a neighboring business that complained about missing generators, he said, it was clear he had grown close to the others living there.
 “We’re a family down here,” he said.
Hollister’s miniature version of a tent city—which now has about two dozen makeshift homes dotting the riverbed, some concealed more than others—underscores the complexity of a sometimes migrant, but also community-wary, homeless culture.
City officials such as Mayor Ignacio Velazquez have pointed to a need for long-term solutions such as establishing a transitional housing program and building a permanent homeless shelter, which is lacking in this county but in the works.
He said it’s difficult to prompt a community of homeless residents to move, like the one along the riverbed, because they have nowhere to go. Many homeless residents had lived in the Park Hill of the downtown area until recent months, when the city started giving it more attention in an attempt to clean up the park and root out vagrancy.  
The Catch-22 isn’t lost on the mayor.
“You can’t just tell people to move out and not have a place for them to go,” Velazquez said, referring to the situation along the riverbed. “As they’ve been pushed out of town, they’ve been moving over there.”
Their long-standing and growing presence recently prompted Mike Chambless, the city’s code enforcement director, to pay a visit. Chambless said he didn’t issue any sort of notice, but did go down to conduct an inspection and to let the homeless residents know they had been trespassing.  
“It will grow if we don’t take care of the problem,” Velazquez said. “There’s no doubt about it. As you’re forcing people out of one area, they’re going to move to another area.”


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