The mission to eradicate arundo along the Ventura River bottom and elsewhere in the county isn’t new. In fact, it’s been going for several years now. The end goal is to destroy the nonnative species that consumes significantly more water than native plants, which threatens their chances of survival, and also to reduce the physical environment where homeless people can build encampments. Due to arundo’s bamboo-like qualities and its sheer durability, the homeless have been building shelters along the riverbed for years, bringing along with them environmental health hazards, which include public defecation and tons of trash.
In the last couple of weeks, the city of Ventura and private land owners neighboring the Ventura River bottom have undertaken the monumental task of mowing down the arundo and moving out the homeless population. This comes on the heels of a state mandate to clean up the area or face fines of up to $27,500 per day. Starting March 1, the task will be put on hold until November in order not to disturb the nesting cycle of certain birds in the area.
This ongoing effort has yielded some positive results: in 2008-09, the area that was mainly on private property was mowed and the homeless population relocated. The area is now under maintenance and apparently is much healthier than before. The hope is for the same to happen with the recent effort, clearing out the invasive arundo and moving out the homeless. But, as noted by Peter Brown, Ventura’s community services manager, the population that was forced out before just moved to other areas where there has consequently been a boost in homeless encampments — other parts of the riverbed, along the railroad tracks, even more encampments across town along the Santa Clara River. With fewer places for them to settle, the population becomes denser and this results in more social and environmental issues, from fights to fires.
Progressive solutions have popped up in Ventura, however, in the last few years, when the clearing of the arundo began. Various emergency and transitional housing centers have gained momentum, including the Kingdom Center for families, Working Artists Ventura project — Supportive Housing Opportunities in a Residential Environment, and El Patio Hotel, which was converted to offer housing for homeless referred by the Ventura County Behavioral Health Department. Still, the need to find more permanent solutions to every kind of homelessness, from episodic to chronic, is very prevalent. And while the city of Ventura continues with progressive solutions, it cannot accomplish the mission to end homelessness alone. This should be a collaborative regional effort as those displaced in other parts of the county and in nearby counties move to the city.
In speaking with other homeless prevention agencies in the area, it is clear that much time and many resources have been allocated to finding permanent solutions. But even with all that has been going on, it takes a knowledgeable public to advocate for reasonable and effective answers to Ventura’s homeless problem. Though one local resident once said, “Let’s just ship them to other cities,” that’s not realistic, nor is it fixing the problem. All cities in the county must continue to work together to create more housing and find jobs so the homeless population can support themselves. It is also crucial that the public understand the depth of the issue in order to fix it. Eradicating arundo is just a minor step in the right direction.