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Castro abatement

Fires at Castro encampment renew calls for safety at Richmond RV sites

on November 2, 2021

Reggie Wiggins opened the door to his stepmother’s recreational vehicle in a Richmond encampment in the early hours of Oct. 8 and felt a wave of heat.

Wiggins, who had been staying with his stepmother in an RV at a homeless encampment by the Richmond Parkway, saw a car and an RV on fire nearby. 

“Everything was up in flames,” Wiggins, 30, said. “Ash flying up everywhere. It was a scary moment.”

This site, often called the Castro Encampment because of its entrance on Castro Street, has become a focal point for city leaders and local advocates because of fires and other safety issues. The Richmond Fire Department recorded 14 fires there between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15.

Advocates with Safe Organized Spaces Richmond worked with encampment residents and fire Marshal Eric Govan to remove fire hazards later on Oct. 8. Someone from the Code Enforcement Division visits this encampment and the one on Rydin Road regularly to discuss safety issues person to person, Govan said. 

City staff towed nine vehicles from the Castro encampment between Oct. 6 and 8 for creating hazards, such as blocking fire truck routes or after having caught fire already. Three vehicles, two of which were burned, were removed on Oct. 8. 

SOS! Richmond has provided waste removal services there since March 2020, according to Director Daniel Barth. Everything removed from the encampment was done with either owners’ consents or the consensus of those living nearby. Among the items hauled away were an abandoned car, debris from a burnt RV and a pile of rubber that was stripped of copper wire.

“The point is to mitigate the possibility of fire occurring, so anything that’s flammable is removed,” Barth said.

Castro abatement
SOS! Richmond Executive Director Daniel Barth and Richmond Fire Marshal Eric Govan discuss how to remove debris from the Castro encampment. (Sakura Cannestra)

Renee Castillo and her family have lived at the Castro Encampment for about a year. When they arrived in November, Castillo said there were much fewer people and they looked out for each other. 

“Now it’s just full of people,” she said, “Hard to look out for each other.” 

The encampment’s growth also has made it harder to be safe. She saw the car and RV burning on Oct. 8. Concerned about fire, Castillo keeps two extinguishers in her RV. 

Earlier this year, the Richmond City Council discussed opening a safe RV parking location that also would have sanitation. After pushback from community members, though, the council appointed a commission to research how best to provide support to Richmond’s unhoused population. The city also has been looking at what resources and partnerships are available from the state and county to address the need.

Councilmember Claudia Jiménez said the council wants to be compassionate and find a solution that addresses all the concerns.

“The problem is that the solutions that we have are really minimal,” she said. “There is not a big menu. It’s just like a really small menu of what solutions there are.”

In the meantime, she said, it’s important to ensure safety at the encampments.

Wiggins pitched in to help SOS! Richmond on Oct 8, moving debris into piles. He said he was tired of all the fires and helps where he can to maintain the encampment’s safety.

“I believe it’s helpful,” Wiggins said. “People have their kids down here. … My younger siblings are down here. People I know are down here. That’s something on your mind all the time.”

3 Comments

  1. Leticia on November 2, 2021 at 3:30 pm

    Ppl should not be allowed to bring in nothing but rv or vehicle. Absolutely nothing else & if thry do grounds for them to have to leave. It is disgraceful to have garbage & anything else out in the open.

  2. Amanda jenkins founder of Castro RV encampmentand resident of Castro and rydin rd on November 7, 2021 at 11:35 pm

    When I started the Castro encampment there were alot less people and I kept it clean from March 2020 with very little help from S. O. S it wasn’t until the summer of 2021 tht I left Castro and moved to rydin rd bcuz Castro was out of control and the garbage was totally out of control this is when s.o.s. Started coming more regular to take away garbage however they still do not come often enough to really keep it cleaned up around there especially when the city refuses to provide dumpsters or garbage bins of any kind of size at all. There were 11 garbage cans donated and everyday service for those cans from republic services when Castro was only 1 lot and 11 trailers however tht didn’t last long and since then we have seen as many as 45 trailers at 1 time at Castro between the 2 lots now being occupied which is about 100 – 125 people on 2 lots at any given time. I am only 1 person and can not handle all of tht alone nor can I make anyone do anything they DNT want to do so tht became a power struggle I soon lost. I had alot of help from a few of the community residents and friends of mine and we kept up with everything tht was needed at Castro with minimal cost to the city and 1or2 fires only for about 11months or so as well as slowed the stolen cars and other crimes down significantly but once the city didn’t help me get the people out tht wouldn’t follow rules the whole place went haywire and we lost all order which has resulted in what u see today at Castro. Had the city and S O. S. helped me with a crew or paid some of the people who were already doing the job and helped with getting out the ones who didn’t follow rules Castro would not be the way it is today.

  3. Amanda jenkins on November 14, 2021 at 1:19 am

    The problem is there is nobody to put the rule breakers out and when I did try to self govern I was over powered and forced out bcuz the city nor SOS had my bak

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