May 2 was a highly anticipated and high stakes day. Dozens of police, heavy equipment and city workers swept through the Palco Marsh in Eureka.
As a reporter for the Humboldt Edge, I was allowed in while my fellow reporter Nezzie Wade was denied access.
When I entered, my heart sank. It looked like a war zone. The Coast Guard helicopter circled the area repeatedly. Smoke billowed from fires reeking of trash. Weary and stunned residents, many with no safe place to live, carried their belongings in trash bags, on bicycles and makeshift carts trying to take as much as they could in one load.
They would not be allowed to come back. The temporary emergency container housing being offered to 40 people filled up quickly; it was not enough to accommodate over 130 residents of the marsh. The Koster Street parking lot allows overnight camping from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., but is not available during the day. Sixty overflow shelter beds for men were added at the St. Vincent de Paul dining hall on an emergency basis, without accommodation for dogs.
All of these options expire in October when the six-month shelter crisis emergency declaration ends.
By 9 a.m., all but a handful of houseless people had been kicked out. They poured onto the streets with carts and bags, dogs trailing behind. They were burdened and broke, looking lost and violated. Their homes had been taken by force, their belongings bulldozed into piles and scooped into dumpsters.
For many residents of the marsh, it had become the closest thing to a stable home and family that they had ever known. Many of the people that I spoke with who lived in the marsh had been directed to go there by the police during “Operation Clean Sweep.” This was an effort last year to clear all of the homeless camps from other areas of the city. Mayor Frank Jager previously said that he did not want the homeless to be disbursed throughout the city but with the Palco Marsh exodus that is exactly what happened.
It is illegal to sleep in Eureka. The police can confiscate belongings placed on the ground. The lack of permanent housing or a sanctuary camp has left the houseless wandering the streets being harassed and arrested for doing nothing more than trying to survive.