LODI — Thursday morning along Highway 99 in Lodi, Caltrans district 10 workers and California Highway Patrol officers worked to clean up after a homeless encampment was given 72 hours to pack up and leave.
Business owners nearby say the cleanup effort is just a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem facing the city.
“There’s increased crime in the area, increased trash,” Clearview Soft Wash owner Kelly King said.
Businesses bordering Highway 99 near Pine Street say they have seen this for years.
Crews collected old blankets, bikes and hypodermic needles on Thursday.
“We are trying to protect the highway system as well as, quite honestly, the folks who are living out here,” Caltrans District 10 spokesman Skip Allum said. “This is an unsafe place for folks to live due to the high-speed traffic below them here.”
King says Caltrans has tried to fix the situation before.
“They would camp out along here but Caltrans came in and they trimmed the trees back on the bushes. So, that helped,” King said.
Even Caltrans admits it’s not always effective.
“On this particular Highway 99 corridor through Lodi, we’ve performed 20 encroachment clearings over the past two years,” Allum told FOX40.
But after the camp is cleared out, where will the homeless living there go next?
Leah Suelter believes they could end up in front of her downtown business.
“Oftentimes they will just ride down Pine Street and just come. They check all of our trash cans, they will steal dumpsters and they’ll steal trash cans because they are getting tickets for shopping carts,” she said.
Suelter says the city still hasn’t given them a concrete plan on how to deal with the people once they leave the encampments.
“There’s not really a solution in place to put them somewhere, so they just move and do it all again somewhere else,” Suelter said.
But Suelter and King have a message for the city and how they should handle the issue.
“It’s a broken system there needs to be more than just someone taken off the road for a few hours,” King said.
“They need to have licensed professionals come out and do actual mental health assessments, check for warrants, get their names and their locations,” Suelter said.