The City of San Luis Obispo began clearing out homeless encampments along the Bob Jones trail on Monday.
Some people living along the trail say they've been living there for years, but now have to find somewhere else to go.
"They're displacing between 30-50 unhoused people who have nowhere else to go. We are here because we care about our homeless people," said Becky Jorgeson, homeless advocate and founder of Hopes Village.
City officials said the campsites were becoming a community health hazard. The trail is adjacent to a creek and there have been two deaths in recent years from flooding as well as several swift-water rescues. The trail has also been the site of more than 49 fires in the past 10 months. Recently, a deceased man's body was found in an encampment that police believe had likely been there for several weeks.
Due to the pandemic, officials say the homeless population along the trail has increased.
The city says outreach in the area started about two weeks ago. That outreach reportedly included shelter referrals and other support.
“I think of the 58 camps we spoke with during that time, there were four individuals that took us up on our offer to going down to 40 Prado [Homeless Services Center],” said John Klevins, a social worker with the SLO Community Action Team (CAT).
City officials say despite all the resources the city has available, many believe the issue will persist if people don't reach out for help.
“Unfortunately, we can't force people to make the right decisions in life. That's up to them, so if the problem is growing, I don't know that it's because of the program that is there to help them,” Klevins said.
But many say it's a short-term solution for a long-term, ongoing problem.
“I think it comes down to, will these people take the step upon themselves to create change in their lives?” Klevins said.
Rene Askew, who has been living on the trail, says despite having to leave her things behind and relocating, "It doesn't matter, material things don't matter. People matter, people matter.”
Crews say the clean-up process is expected to take several weeks.
According to the city, they will have people monitoring the area as they continue to focus their efforts on wetland and creek maintenance.