Sacramento Authorities Bending to Protest Actions in Tent City Fight ?

NOTES BY NORSE:  After weeks of protest camping out in front of its City Hall, Sacramento homeless activists have forced change.  Sacramento is discussing and its chief newspaper backing a Tent City as interim emergency shelter.  The San Jose City Council is doing the same.  Salinas activists, attorneys, and homeless residents of their Chinatown encampment have filed two lawsuits and announced a massive resistance campaign to begin March 22nd against gentrification deportation slated by greedy city bureacrats the next morning (HUFF activists may do a caravan–call 831-423-4833 if you’d like to join the resistance).  San Francisco supervisors are calling for a State of Emergency there ( )  has significantly (though not adequately) improved shelter capability and conditions–while moving to disperse the Division St. encampment after pressure from right-wing columnists and the usual crowd of NIMBY’s.

                         Santa Cruz continues to make sleep at night a crime & close off all parks and green belt areas with uniformed ticketeers roaming the area to drive away the poor.  Freedom SleepOut #35 will continue its nine month long weekly protest in front of City Hall tomorrow evening (March 15th).   See for more details.   Independent activist Dogwood has called for a march from the Town Clock to City Hall beginning at 3 PM on that day.  HUFF activists will be discussing further protest and speak-out activity at the Project Pollinate gathering this coming Saturday March 19th at San Lorenzo Park at noon.  What’s next here depends on all of us.


March 11, 2016 10:00 PM Sacramento Bee

Let Sacramento’s homeless have their tent city

City-sanctioned camp is worth a try over the summer
Pilot program would help with short-term housing needs
Long-term solutions still need to happen, but will take time

Rows of tents fill an authorized lot at Tent City 5 in the Interbay neighborhood of Seattle. Sacramento officials toured the city-sanctioned homeless camp as they consider whether to authorize a similar one in the capital.
Rows of tents fill an authorized lot at Tent City 5 in the Interbay neighborhood of Seattle. Sacramento officials toured the city-sanctioned homeless camp as they consider whether to authorize a similar one in the capital. Lezlie
By the Editorial Board

Imagine there were tents on a grassy lot in Oak Park, Meadowview or Del Paso Heights. Dozens of them, pitched for homeless men and women with nowhere else to go.
If such a scenario makes you uneasy, we understand. For years, Sacramento officials have been talking about whether to sanction a homeless encampment. And for just as many years, the idea has been dismissed as inhumane.

Now, though, the inhumanity of homelessness has spread across the city and the county for all to see. Permanent housing, the true solution, remains elusive if not illusory. The idea for a “safe ground” is gaining ground. With other, more traditional solutions still falling short, it’s time for the City Council to stop talking about this and try it – if only for a few months, in a cautious and controlled manner.

We suggest a pilot program for this summer. A permit should be granted for one agreed-upon site that’s big enough to house a few dozen adult campers in tents. Use of drugs and alcohol should be banned inside the camp, but pets should be allowed. Sex offenders and people who are prone to violence also should be banned.
Access to basic amenities such as portable toilets, water and trash collection, would be a must. So should access to services so campers can take advantage of treatment for addiction and mental illness, and get on a list for permanent housing.

To be clear, this isn’t a long-term solution to homelessness in Sacramento. Critics accurately point out that it remains unclear whether these camps actually help get homeless people into permanent housing. The experiment in Seattle, where a large delegation from Sacramento toured its legal camps last month, is ongoing.

But to go a step further and say a camp – even a temporary one – would do nothing but provide a distraction from other, more legitimate methods for solving homelessness is inaccurate.
It’s a stopgap measure that can be put into place quickly and relatively cheaply, and address some shorter-term problems associated with homelessness while the infrastructure for longer-term solutions is put into place.

The way Seattle Mayor Ed Murray put it, the authorized camps in his city are “an answer to nothing except a warm and safer night to some people.” And for homeless people who would otherwise camp outdoors – disconnected from services, risking arrest, getting robbed and even death because there aren’t enough shelters or because mental illness makes it tough to sleep indoors – being warm and safe is indeed something.

In other words, a city-sanctioned camp is far from ideal, but for the time being, necessary. Consider the alternatives.

Last summer, in the midst of another year of drought, homeless campers trying to cook instead set fire to large swaths of the American River Parkway. The blazes were costly to put out and threatened nearby apartment complexes, prompting the county to spend even more money to hire more park rangers to confiscate cooking equipment and break up large campsites amid the dry trees and brush.

That said, people have been camping illegally and in unsafe, disgusting conditions on the parkway for decades – to Sacramento’s ever-lasting shame when Oprah Winfrey singled out the city for it in 2009.

Since then, the city has ramped up its stock of permanent housing with links to social services. But on any given night, there are still about 1,000 people outside in Sacramento County, most of them in the city. Homeless-rights advocates readily tell stories of fruitless efforts to get people into shelters and onto lengthy lists for housing.

Things are improving. There’s talk of rearranging space at existing shelters to accommodate more people, and work is being done with landlords to get them to accept more tenants. But these things will take time, and summer is coming.

In the meantime, homeless people, once primarily downtown and in midtown, have started to migrate into surrounding neighborhoods as the city has redoubled its efforts to spruce up the central city. Many of those neighborhoods are the same ones being eyed as potential sites for sanctioned camps: in City Council Districts 2, 5 and 8.

The group Safe Ground Sacramento is pushing for District 5, which covers Oak Park, Curtis Park, Hollywood Park, South Land Park and neighborhoods near Sacramento Executive Airport. For those neighborhoods, the question isn’t whether residents want homeless people milling about. That’s already a fact of life, even for the NIMBYs.

The question is, do those residents want to deal with homeless men and women one on one, particularly those wandering the streets with untreated mental illness and addiction problems? Or do they want to deal with homeless people living in a camp in their neighborhood, where the environment is so controlled that everyone is screened before they are allowed to enter?
There’s also the bigger question of whether those mostly poor neighborhoods should be forced to bear the entire burden of city’s homeless problem. We think not.

Whatever neighborhood the City Council chooses if it authorizes a camp next month, it should take the advice of Seattle Councilman Mike O’Brien and get residents involved early in the process to enlist their help selecting an appropriate site. The result, he told The Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Lillis, has been that many of the business owners who thought a homeless camp would drive away customers now acknowledge their fears “don’t seem to be materializing.”

A collection of tents on a plot a land in some Sacramento neighborhood is not a solution to homelessness. It is an admission that society has failed the thousands of people who have no roof. The notion of a safe ground, flawed though it is, could help and, therefore, it’s worth a try.





February 29, 2016 8:08 PM

Sacramento homeless committee urged to look at tent cities

Homeless advocates say city should consider sanctioned homeless encampments
Facilities are designed to transition homeless individuals into permanent housing
City Council subcommittee could recommend model as early as mid-April

By Ryan Lillis

For comments and photos go to

Homeless service providers and advocates urged a Sacramento City Council subcommittee Monday to give the model of sanctioned homeless camps serious thought as the city grapples with how best to address its homeless population.

Nearly 200 people attended the committee meeting and applauded often when the concept of tent cities was mentioned.

The three-member City Council panel was joined by other high-ranking city officials last week in Seattle, which has granted permits for three sanctioned homeless tent cities. Two of those camps are operational, and a third is under construction.

The facilities connect residents with on-site social services and access to organizations for low-income housing. City officials want the facilities to serve as springboards into permanent housing, although it’s too early to tell whether that’s happening in Seattle.

Councilman Jay Schenirer, the chair of the subcommittee, said he expects the panel will bring a set of recommendations on tackling the city’s homeless issue to the full City Council in mid-April.

That could include a proposal to allow tent cities.

Councilman Jeff Harris, a subcommittee member, said he “didn’t have high expectations going to Seattle.” He said the trip changed his outlook.

“It provided stability, it provided safety,” he said of the tent city model.

Emily Halcon, the city of Sacramento’s homeless services coordinator, said the Seattle camps are serving the least vulnerable of the homeless population. Residents must abide by a code of conduct, drug and alcohol use is prohibited, and registered sex offenders are not allowed to stay there.

Halcon said a “key component” of the Seattle camps was the system of self-governance. Camp residents elect leaders, screen new campers and conduct security on site and in the surrounding neighborhood.

The model has been under consideration in Sacramento for years but has never had considerable political support. City officials have been unable to identify a site – or sites – for a camp that would generate neighborhood support.

Stephen Watters, executive director of First Step Communities, which is advocating for a village of tiny homes for the homeless, provided some insight into where a sanctioned camp could be.

He told the committee his group is reviewing sites in three City Council districts: District 2 in North Sacramento; District 5, which covers Oak Park, Curtis Park, Hollywood Park and other neighborhoods south of downtown; and District 8 in Meadowview.

Mark Merin, an attorney who has campaigned for a sanctioned homeless encampment for years, said a facility for 100 people would cost $120,000 a year. The camps would likely be run by a nonprofit organization.

“If we had some relaxation of (the city’s ban on urban camping) and gave permission for private folks to open up their vacant properties to encampments, we could overnight take that number of people sleeping on the streets and put them into a safe environment,” Merin said.

Sister Libby Fernandez of homeless services provider Loaves and Fishes urged the council committee to consider a sanctioned camp, also known as “safe ground.” She also called the city’s anti-camping laws “morally wrong” and advocated for shelter triage centers that are open 24 hours a day.

February 26, 2016 5:41 PM Sacramento Bee

Sacramento officials receptive to Seattle homeless camp model

Three Council members, mayor’s representative want to explore ‘safe ground’
Councilman Hansen says not enough data yet to show model works
A delegation of Sacramento Council members, community leaders and city officials visits a city-sanctioned living area for homeless residents in Seattle. Friday, Feb. 28, 2016.
A delegation of Sacramento Council members, community leaders and city officials visits a city-sanctioned living area for homeless residents in Seattle. Friday, Feb. 28, 2016. Ryan LillisThe Sacramento Bee
By Ryan Lillis

Most of the Sacramento City Council members who toured permitted homeless camps here Friday said they support exploring the idea back home.

Councilmen Jay Schenirer, Eric Guerra and Jeff Harris expressed various levels of support for allowing dozens of homeless campers to live in a contained facility connected with social service and affordable housing providers. Two staffers with Mayor Kevin Johnson’s office took the tours, and a spokesman for the mayor said Johnson “has been supportive in the past and he’s open to exploring it again.”

“I think it’s something that we seriously need to look at,” Schenirer said. “Given the right infrastructure and support, it might be something we want to do.”

Schenirer said a City Council subcommittee on homelessness that he chairs will begin discussing the model. He said he’d like to have a series of public meetings – including a full City Council hearing – on the Seattle trip before a formal proposal is considered by the council.

The council subcommittee is scheduled to conduct its first meeting Monday at 5:30 p.m. at City Council Chambers. It is open to the public.

“There could be some efficacy here for a fairly small segment of our homeless population in Sacramento,” Harris said. “This might be a tool we could use to socialize, stabilize and integrate some people.”

The Seattle camps are designed to transition homeless people into housing, although it’s unclear how effective they’ve been so far. Sacramento has focused its efforts on improving the stock of permanent housing with social service support, but homeless rights activists regularly complain about a lack of temporary or transitional housing in the city.

Councilman Steve Hansen – whose central city district is among the most impacted by the homeless population – said there isn’t enough evidence that sanctioned tent cities help ease the issue of homelessness.

“It may help some people sometimes, but it’s not clear it produces results,” he said during a tour of one of the Seattle camps. “There’s an argument that something is better than nothing, but if it doesn’t produce results, it’s not really something.”

Seattle city leaders last year approved the creation of three tent cities on public or private land. Two opened late last year and a third is being built. Roughly 85 homeless men, women and children live in the two camps that are operational; the third could house as many as 50 more people soon after it opens.

Sacramento attorney Mark Merin and Sister Libby Fernandez of homeless service provider Loaves and Fishes said they have raised enough money to operate “several” sanctioned homeless camps in Sacramento. They said they have begun identifying sites and would like to find four places throughout the city where the camp could rotate every three months.

Guerra said tent cities in Sacramento could help place less vulnerable homeless people into housing, freeing up space in the service system for individuals facing greater challenges.

“I definitely think it hits a population that is easier to serve,” he said. “If it helps us alleviate some pressure (on the overall system), then something like this could help us tackle the population.”

Look for a longer report on the Seattle tent city model in Sunday’s print edition of The Sacramento Bee.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

Homeless protest escalates at Sacramento City Hall

City Council abruptly ends meeting after protesters speak out during hearing
Some activists remained at City Hall until being threatened with arrest
Council committee on homelessness will meet with activists, explore spending and policy changesHomeless rights activists occupy Sacramento City Hall after the City Council abruptly ended its meeting Tuesday night. The activists remained in the building for more than an hour.

The Sacramento City Council meeting Tuesday night ended abruptly after homeless rights activists spoke out and refused to refrain from applauding during the meeting. Councilman Rick Jennings, who was running the meeting in Mayor Kevin Johnson’s absence, issued a warning to protesters who spoke out of turn. He then adjourned the meeting after some in the audience continued to raise their voices. Ryan
By Ryan Lillis

A six-week protest by homeless rights activists outside Sacramento City Hall continued to escalate Tuesday night, when the City Council abruptly ended its meeting after protesters raised their voices and applauded during the hearing. Some protesters later refused to leave City Hall for more than an hour.

The City Council was a few minutes into a presentation on a council subcommittee addressing homelessness when members of the audience began speaking out. Councilman Rick Jennings, who was running the meeting in Mayor Kevin Johnson’s absence, issued a warning to the audience, then adjourned the meeting after some in the audience continued to raise their voices.

The council chambers erupted as some of the protesters walked down the aisle and tried to approach the dais. A line of police officers blocked their path as the protesters yelled at council members.

The activists headed to the lobby of City Hall, where some laid down on the floor and chanted “right to rest.” At 8:45 p.m., the sergeant of arms at City Hall told the activists they would be arrested if they did not leave the building within 15 minutes. The group eventually backed down, filing outside just before 9 p.m.

Large groups of protesters have been attending City Council meetings for weeks. Some of the protesters have been sleeping outside City Hall, seeking to persuade the city to repeal its ban on urban camping.

James Clark, a leader of the protest group, was among those who remained inside City Hall. He said “it’s very important that people express their outrage in a nonviolent fashion.”

“We’ve been at City Council meetings for over a year now, and they’ve never had a problem with applause before,” he said. “In fact, they love it when people applaud for the Kings, but tonight people applaud for the homeless and it’s called a disruption? That’s appalling, it doesn’t make any sense.”

City officials have said they will not bow to the protesters’ demand to repeal the camping ordinance, arguing the law is in place to safeguard public health. Officials also contend they are working on long-term solutions to homelessness, including assessing the needs of the city’s homeless population and identifying permanent housing options.

Councilman Jay Schenirer, who is leading the council subcommittee, said in an interview Wednesday the ongoing protests won’t change the work of the committee and that he thinks “we’re going to do what we think is right for the community.” Schenirer told the crowd during the council meeting that the committee would meet with representatives of the protest group and seek their input.
“My message would be: ‘You have a council that cares; work in partnership with us,’ ” he said. “I do think there is more that we can do.”
The council subcommittee expects to report to the full City Council by mid-April with a list of recommendations on budget and policy issues. Schenirer said he also expects to involve other agencies in the talks, including Sacramento County.

Homeless rights activists occupy Sacramento City Hall after the City Council abruptly ended its meeting Tuesday night. The activists remained in the building for more than an hour.