City Evicts Homeless CommunitySacramento “campers” moved along to nowhere, two arrested for refusing to go.
by Paula Lomazzi
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After being threatened with citations from County Rangers when Safe Ground was camping on the American River Parkway a couple months ago, they made their way to the other side of the American River to a strip of land surrounded on one side by the levee and on the other side by a chain link fence separating the area from Industrial zoned businesses. This quiet, hidden strip of land, though next to the American River Parkway, was actu
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Safe Ground and neighbors before police sweep - photo by Libby Fernandez
ally the jurisdiction of the City of Sacramento and patrolled by police or City park rangers. Though it is illegal to camp anywhere in Sacramento, law enforcement may have tolerated this camp since the area was kept clean, sanitation concerns were addressed, and Safe Ground members signed a covenant to keep drugs, alcohol and violence out of the camp. Plus there was nowhere identified more out of the way and hidden than this place. Very suitable for the purpose. Soon other homeless people migrated to the area, both individuals and communal groups, probably finding it attractive for its suitability and a place to escape the County Ranger’s relentless crackdown along the American River Parkway.
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By the beginning of December, there were about 25 to 30 tents in the Safe Ground camp, with one or two people per tent. Surrounding their camp were approximately 70 or 80 tents belonging to people not members of Safe Ground. Leaders from all the camps met regularly to coordinate activities, resolve problems, and to make decisions.
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At the beginning of December, police came in and gave many of the community notices that they would have to leave the area. There was no date on the notice but the residents expected eviction by citations or arrests to occur within days. All the camp leaders met and decided they would a
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Property being removed - photo by Paula Lomazzi
ll stand in solidarity, refusing to leave. Safe Ground Sacramento called a press conference at the camping area on December 2, which attracted TV and newspaper reporters. Media presence may have staved off the evictions, or it may have been the announcement that civil disobedience would ensue upon eviction that preserved this community until after Christmas. Rumor had it that the police sweep wouldn’t happen until January 2nd or 3rd.
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It was the morning of December 28 that they did finally come in, and they came in force with around 40 police, including a paddy wagon and CSI photographers. According to a document titled “Safe Ground Incident Action Plan” that was found on the scene, there was a detailed plan including at least 30 named police officers and several volunteers. The 10 page document laid out the plan to try to get homeless campers to voluntarily pack up and leave, and for officers to work in teams assigned to sections of the camp grounds. This seemed to be the way the day played out. Most homeless campers peacefully packed their belongings and left, either on their own or with the help of volunteers. The police’s supply of pepper balls were left unused.
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One camper, though, was arrested early in the day for saying that he wasn’t leaving since he had nowhere else to go. Eli was previously interviewed by Mark Horvath from www.invisiblepeople.tv, where he shared that he used to be a carpenter that lost paying customers due to the economic downturn and then became homeless. When asked about his future he didn’t feel hopeful about getting a job because he was too old, and at the same time too young to get social security, but he said, “My future’s great beca
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Eli - photo by Libby Fernandez
use God’s given me a dream that we will have some place stable that we can live.”
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Leo was given a citation because he too said he wouldn’t leave. He was not arrested.
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Jeannie, a Safe Ground Elder, decided she was not going to leave, also. She kept her tent erected and waited, not alone, but with many supporters who stayed with her late into the night. At 7 PM the police got in their vehicles and left for the night. They came back and arrested her the next morning for violation of the camping ordinance. She was released around 3PM that same day and has been given a January 19 court date.
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Where did everyone go? The night of the police sweep there were approximately 150 people that were displaced from their meager shelters. Many went to one of Safe Ground Pilgrimage churches, which was a church that was scheduled to allow homeless people to stay inside their doors just for the one night. Some people went to the Winter Sanctuary program, a county program where churches, on a rotating basis, open their doors to homeless people, allowing up to 100 people to sleep on their floors. The Winter Sanctuary has been generally filled to capacity before December 28, but they did add a few spots for the rousted campers. Some men were able to get into the Union Gospel Mission, a shelter for men. Some went to the other side of the river to sleep on the American River Parkway. And Central City business owners may have noticed an increase of homeless people sleeping in alleys and doorways.
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Before the sweep, shelter beds and other homeless housing programs have been filled to capacity with long waiting lists on most programs, leaving over 1,200 homeless people unable to access shelter on any given night.
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In Ginger Rutland’s Sacramento Bee editorial she wrote “…it’s hard for me at this season not to think of the Biblical Mary and Joseph looking for shelter. If they had not found that stable and had slept on a riverbank instead, would the cops at Bethlehem have rousted them?”
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Jeannie Williams, Safe Ground Elder - photo by Paula Lomazzi