SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) — Officials in Santa Rosa on Tuesday prepared to move forward with the clearing out of multiple homeless encampments under Highway 101.

It was supposed to happen weeks ago, but was delayed by coronavirus concerns.

Nearly every US Highway 101 underpass in Santa Rosa has a sizable homeless camp underneath it. The camps have been there for months.

Exposure to the coronavirus at the encampments further complicated plans to clear the homeless from under the freeway overpasses.

“Two inmates from Sonoma County Jail were released, pending their test results. But instead of going to where they were asked to go to, they ended up under the freeway,” explained Director of Housing and Community Services David Gouin.

Mike Salvato lives under College Street overpass.

“The jail is right down the street, so a lot of people when they get out, they just walk down here. There’s always trouble makers coming in and out of camp,” said Salvato.

Those two former inmates tested positive for COVID-19. They are now at a separate location, but the remaining homeless in the area may have been exposed. The county stepped in and is testing as many as people can.

Tuesday afternoon, Sonoma County Health confirmed those results were not back yet either. Nonetheless, Santa Rosa is taking action.

“We have determined that the health conditions here merit us to take steps to invite folks to go somewhere else and clear that area,” said Gouin.

The clearing is set to start Wednesday. Santa Rosa will offer those living under the freeway overpasses three choices: rapid re-housing in the community, moving to a local shelter or relocating to a monitored camp in a parking lot at nearby Finley Park.

Salvato said he prefers the underpass.

“It’s a lot better than the camp they have over at Finley. All the tents are out in the sun and on black tar asphalt, so it’s a hundred degrees.”

Still, life in the overpass encampments is also hard. Self-proclaimed mayor of the encampment Tom on Tuesday washed his hair with carbonated water. He knows what is coming.

“I’m willing to go to jail. I could use a real shower. And I could read a book. But they won’t keep me. They’ll just cite me out,” said Tom.

Salvato said he understands the city’s concern.

“There was some people that were sick and throwing up and stuff in camp, but I stayed away from them and washed my hands and try to eat vitamins and everything to stay healthy,” said Salvato. “I really don’t want to get coronavirus.”

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