By John Ramos

SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) — The controversy over a large homeless encampment in Santa Rosa was ignited when people began posting videos of it online.  Now a new video has surfaced with images that are disturbing to the people who live in the camp as well.

The clip, taken from a Sonoma Sheriff’s helicopter, shows the ghostly infrared images of rats scurrying around the homeless encampment at the Joe Rodota Trail.

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Angry neighbors see it as one more burden being created by the homeless. But the campers aren’t exactly thrilled by it either.

“Yeah, there’s lots of rats. There is,” said a camper named Kelly. “It isn’t sanitary really, you know?”

Kelly lives on the trail and says many of the campers try to keep their areas clean, but there are also those who continue to create a rodent breeding ground by hoarding trash and clutter.

“Yeah, there’s some people that do that around here,” she said. When asked why they do that, she replied, “I don’t know. Some people think it’s treasures. Other people just…they have a problem collecting things!”

A pest control company was supposed to begin placing rat traps and spreading bait to keep females from breeding, but campers said there was no sign of them as of Monday morning.

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Instead, members of the Clean River Alliance were out collecting the trash that attracts the rodents, including one huge pile that wasn’t created by the homeless at all but by someone who used the encampment as a dumping ground.

“They actually broke down one of the posts out here, drove through illegally on the trail and then dumped a load of trash here at the end of the trail,” said Alliance volunteer Chris Brokate.

That’s how it is on the trail. The trash pile was dumped by someone else, but the homeless will be seen as the reason it is there at all. To be sure, the campers do generate a lot of garbage.

But volunteers like Robyn Pruski, who come to the trail to hand out sandwiches and second-hand clothing told KPIX the campers are not just the source of the problem, but also its biggest victims.  It just took a video of rats for the rest of us to see it.

“I also think it had to come into our faces,” Pruski said.  “Like, we have to see this for someone to do something about it.”

Officials are beginning to take action.  Eleven portable toilets have been placed along the trail and the county has contracted with the Clean River Alliance to remove garbage three days a week.

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As for the rats, the anti-breeding method may slow them down, but experts say the only real way to get rid of the rodents is to eliminate the piles of trash they feed on.