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State agency destroys Vallejo homeless encampment

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State workers destroyed a homeless encampment north of Highway 37 in Vallejo on Thursday, upsetting camp residents and seemingly violating city efforts to be more tolerant of its hundreds of homeless citizens.

Chris Nesmith, an area supervisor for Caltrans, the state Department of Transportation, said officials distributed flyers a few days before warning camp residents of the closure after discovering that the encampment was on state property.

"We just found out it was state property," Nesmith told the Vallejo Times-Herald newspaper.

"No one knew whose it was."

Nesmith said camp residents had longer than the state-required 72-hour notice to vacate, the newspaper said.

But many camp residents told the newspaper they were not notified until hours before workers arrived with backhoes and bulldozers.

"We just found out yesterday," said Denise Helmici, who had been staying in the camp with her husband.

"This morning, they said we've got five minutes to get our stuff out."

The encampment was hidden in thick growth off Wilson Avenue as it merged into Sacramento Street after passing under the Highway 37 bridge.

"Where are we going to go," asked Denise Bouwsma, another camp resident. "I didn't see any paperwork."

The site was not the first Wilson Avenue homeless encampment removed by authorities.

An encampment just south of the bridge was removed by the city in February, but not before campers were given 30-days notice and offered plastic bins to store belongings for up to 90 days.

Nesmith said the Caltrans notice offered information to camp residents about where to find public services, including at the city's lone shelter for the homeless, the Christian Help Center at 2166 Sacramento St.

"When we post, we give them the information on there, and they can do what they want to do," he said.

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