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After Salinas River Trail cleanup efforts resume, Paso Community Action Team continues work of getting individuals housed

Angel Russell

Staffing shortages caused the City of Paso Robles to suspend maintenance efforts of clearing trash left from homeless encampments along the Salinas Riverbed — but the city said the work of trying to get individuals living within the encampments housed never stopped.

"I don't want to be down here," said 28-year-old Caitlin. She is one the estimated 200 individuals living along the Paso Robles river trail.

“I just don’t have anywhere else to go,” Caitlin said. "It's not what I want."

Caitlin said she has a four-year-old boy she’s hoping to see again. She said lately, luck hasn’t been on her side.

“My family is kind of done with me, they are over me," Caitlin said."I need to get out of here and get my son back.”

Caitlin is one of many who the Paso Robles Community Action Team is trying to help leave the encampments voluntarily. The team is composed of officers and a psychiatric technician.

Officer Josh Lewis is part of the team.

“It’s a different world. It’s a little bit lawless," Lewis said. "They kind of have their own rules, their own cultures.”

Lewis said the team takes a different approach, by going down every week, hoping to build rapport with the individuals to get them to take services offered.

“These people," Lewis said. "They just need a little more help than the average citizen.”

Psychiatric Technician Sara Haradisty said it can take months or even years until an individual accepts help. But Haradisty said success stories do happen.

“There have been times where we have been able to get them with their families again and into services," Haradisty said. "They aren’t bad people. They can be anyone's family.”

The city resumed cleanup efforts this month after work was suspended in September. Meanwhile the Community Action Team has continued to work with the individuals on a daily basis.

This year, the city has removed more than 150,000 pounds of trash, and they’re also clearing brush to avoid wildfires. According to Battalion Chief Jay Enns, more than 40 fires sparked along the riverbed last year, with many of them igniting from within the encampments.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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