WALNUT CREEK -- The roof of Todd Cambra's home vibrates violently as cars drive overhead. Cambra's backyard is down a muddy embankment, where Canada geese glide into the creek.

Cambra, who has lived under a bridge along South California Boulevard for the past seven years, is one of a few dozen homeless people who live in Walnut Creek, whether it's under a bridge, in Civic Park or along one of city's creek beds.

Within weeks, though, Walnut Creek police are set to begin clearing out the city's homeless encampments. As cities across Contra Costa County deal with their own homeless populations, the question re-emerges: If they can't stay where they are, where will they go?

A shopping cart belonging to a homeless man used to collect cans and bottles is photographed near a homeless camp under an overpass in Walnut Creek,
A shopping cart belonging to a homeless man used to collect cans and bottles is photographed near a homeless camp under an overpass in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. Walnut Creek police are planning a city-wide clear out of homeless camps in the city. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

"I don't have anywhere to go if we have to leave, but living here isn't ideal," Cambra said, patting a cane he uses to walk since he was struck by a car a few years ago.

The homeless will not be asked to leave their homes without any sort of warning. In addition to a 72-hour notice, Walnut Creek police have been meeting for weeks with the city's homeless to pass out information to help people transition from camp life into shelters or other service programs, a "compassionate but firm" approach, according to Lt. Bryan Hill.

Driven by complaints from residents and businesses, Hill said police will be taking a tighter stance on camps re-forming within the city, primarily through routine checks while officers are on patrol.

"This will not be a 'scorch the earth' approach," Hill said. "We have been offering them information on their options, ... but what they choose to ultimately do with that information is up to them."

With colder temperatures setting in as the winter months approach, John Alonso, director of the Trinity Center in Walnut Creek, said he is concerned that the city's homeless will have to struggle to make do as they are uprooted. But Alonso added that he understands the department's stance and that it is not just police officers' job to keep the growing homeless population at bay.

With many of the camps in and around the downtown area, Alonso said the homeless have had little desire to seek out open beds in shelters or attempt to find help through county rehabilitation programs, primarily because they are enabled by citizens who are trying to do good by giving them food or money.

"(Homelessness) is a community problem. It is not just a police matter, not just a faith-based issue and not just a county problem. Everybody on every level has to deal with it."

Walnut Creek is not the only city to take a tougher stance against homeless camps, though other cities in the county have significantly larger homeless populations.

Concord recently conducted a city sweep in which outreach teams, compiled of volunteers and police officers, attempted to place as many homeless as possible, helping them find beds in shelters, get medical treatment or enroll in supportive services programs.

Albany recently began enforcement on an ordinance banning camps within city limits, which led to the clear-out of a popular homeless camp site known as the Albany Bulb.

"We're not just rousting the homeless, but if there are areas that involve people who are homeless and who are creating crime, the bottom line is it's not OK," said Concord police Lt. Robin Heinneman. "But we really take that extra time to try and get the person off the streets and get them the services they need. And since our homeless population continues to decline, something is clearly working."

Stuffed toys are part of a homeless camp photographed  under an overpass in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. Walnut Creek police are
Stuffed toys are part of a homeless camp photographed under an overpass in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. Walnut Creek police are planning a city-wide clear out of homeless camps in the city. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

But even with a dip in the number of homeless across the county, Walnut Creek police said their city's homeless population is rising slightly.

"The numbers that are out there are just half of what the population actually is," Hill said. He added that health and safety concerns, particularly public intoxication and urination, have increased and that police receive similar calls daily.

Walnut Creek resident Kitty Maffei said homeless people deserve more consideration than to be herded from place to place.

"Don't try to get rid of all just because you don't like one or two," she said. "An awful lot of us believe the homeless are just regular people. Some need to be taken care of, but there are those that are just people who want to be better.

"I don't think people accept or recognize that not having an income and being homeless is not a crime."

Follow Katie Nelson at Twitter.com/katienelson210.

HOMELESS survey
A biennial survey shows a slight decrease in the homeless population since 2009:
Homeless type: 2009 2011 2013
Sheltered 1,952 2,784 2,448
Unsheltered 1,872 1,490 1,350
Total 3,824 4,274 3,798
Source: Inter-Jurisdictional Council on Homelessness