A Homeless Winter in Sacramento
by Cathleen Williams

Winter can be brutal in California. In the week after New Year’s day, storms brought slashing rains and high winds to the state’s capital, tearing off limbs the size of trees, ripping through the power lines, littering the streets with debris. Before the storm, on the patch of open ground donated by a local land-owner, homeless people had built an encampment in defiance of the anti-camping laws which are enforced by the city and county police in order to keep people who live outside constantly on the move. However, the homeless weren’t moving, and despite several visits and threats by county officials, they could not find a legal way to immediately evict the residents from private property without confronting the land owner in court.

The encampment included a communal shelter of tarps and sticks, heated by a fire of scavenged wood, beach chairs arranged on the dirt floor so that residents could warm themselves in comfort and cook on the grill. The small community, including a young pregnant woman, found a haven under this fragile roof.

But on January 4th, 2008, when the winds came they tore it apart, stripped off the plastic walls and roof, broke the framework, and scattered the scraps into mud. During this same storm, two homeless people were found dead by the American River, drowned in the surge of high water that the heavy rain sent roaring through the city.

One of the residents reported that they all stayed at the destroyed camp for several more days. Then the week after the storm, county representatives came out and offered them housing. They all took the housing except for one individual who had his own motor home.