Video by Andrew Goff. Click to play. Problems on iPhone? Turn your phone sideways.

Early this morning, the city of Eureka erected a very long, very tall cyclone fence along nearly a full block of sidewalk on the north side of West Third Street, between A and Commercial across from the St. Vincent de Paul Free Dining Facility.

The fence effectively shut down one of the largest daytime gathering spots for homeless people in Eureka. At any given time in recent months, dozens of people could usually be found hanging out at the spot during the day, with piles of their possessions.

The sidewalk at Third and A last week, after the burglary at Betty Chinn’s warehouse. Photo: Andrew Goff.

But Capt. Steve Watson of the Eureka Police Department told the Outpost today that the situation had been getting out of hand in recent weeks, and the police — in conjunction with St. Vincent de Paul and neighboring businesses — had long been pressuring sidewalk-dwellers to clean up their act.

Then, last week, police found numerous items stolen from Betty Chinn’s warehouse among the stuff people typically schlep to the sidewalk for the day. Watson said that although the closing of the sidewalk had been considered for some time, he did allow that the discovery of the stolen gear was yet another factor arguing for a crackdown on the sidewalk scene.

“The bottom line is that things have gotten out of hand and out of control out there, and this became necessary,” Watson said.

The fence went up at about 8 a.m. today. Watson said that Mercer Fraser, whose headquarters is half a block away, lent the company’s labor to the effort, and the material was left over from when fences came down at the Balloon Track for trail construction earlier this year. The Eureka Police Department and other city offices ordered and oversaw the shutdown.

It became necessary, Watson said, when — after weeks of requests from police and others — sidewalk scenesters continued to violate numerous criminal and health codes. Watson said the site and nearby alleys had become strewn with urine and feces, both animal and human, and that police had to constantly respond to the area to break up fights. Stolen property was frequently found at the location, Watson said, and the situation was deteriorating.

Watson emphasized that the closure of the sidewalk is “temporary,” though no reopening date has yet been set. In the meanwhile, he said, police are encouraging people to hang out at the Rescue Mission’s day use area. The EPD are working to get more spots for homeless folk to hand out during the day, and in the meanwhile will be actively watching to make sure that the sidewalk scene doesn’t simply re-materialize in another part of the city. 

“Those who want help, we’ll continue to work with,” he said. “The ones who refuse it – if they continue to break the law, and to cause problems, then they can expect enforcement.”