City officials this week suspended plans to clean up a large homeless encampment in North Sacramento after dozens of people, housed and unhoused, demanded it be left alone.
Residents of so-called Camp Resolution say they will continue to occupy the city-owned site at Colfax Street and Arden Way, even if their future remains in limbo.
Many people at Camp Resolution, like Denis McGlothen, said they previously lived in campsites along the American River Parkway that regularly flooded. McGlothen called the fenced and partially paved site in Colfax a “safe haven,” especially with the rain and winter ahead.
“Why would you want to remove that?” It takes us away from people’s quarters,” McGlothen said Thursday, as he cooked bacon for his fellow campers. “Just help us. That’s all we ask. Just help.
The city had planned to clean up the site because it says the soil is contaminated and poses health risks, citing an assessment by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board.
“People currently occupying the Colfax lot are violating conditions set by the National Water Board, and they are potentially at risk from toxic chemicals in the ground, especially people in tents,” Deputy city manager Mario Lara said in a written statement released this week. “The City is responsible if people are allowed to stay there.”
The camp has become a flashpoint in the debate over how to deal with Sacramento’s rapidly growing homeless encampments.
In January, volunteers counted more than 1,600 tents and 1,100 vehicles used as shelters in Sacramento County camps. The totals have been included in the 2022 Point-in-Time Homeless Count and were almost five times higher than in 2019.
Last week, voters in the city weighed in on Measure O, a proposal to ban camps from public ownership if certain conditions are met. This measure was in the lead with 54% of the vote on Thursdayalthough tens of thousands of ballots remain uncounted.
Dozens of Camp Resolution supporters showed up at Tuesday night’s city council meeting to urge city leaders to reverse plans to clean up the site. The council voted unanimously to roll back the plans, but it’s unclear whether the reprieve will be permanent.
Councilman Sean Loloee, whose district includes the camp, said after speaking with City Manager Howard Chan at the meeting that plans had been “delayed for a short time”.
In an email Thursday, city spokesman Tim Swanson said “no specific timeline has been identified” for moving people from the site.
Back at Camp Resolution, residents said they have created a support network that will sustain them in the months to come. Tables of donated clothing, shoes, pet food, fruit, pasta and other supplies line a section of the camp, which also includes a stage for live music. Painted portraits hang on the fences inside the camp.
Banners reading “Sweeps Kill” and “Housing Is a Human Right” line its perimeter fence.
“A lot of people support us,” said Holly Porter, a camp resident who also serves as a media contact. “Mainly, we just want to be given a chance.”
Residents say there is a history of broken promises at the site.
Last year, the city designated it as a future secure parking area, which would allow people living in vehicles to park there legally – on paved surfaces to avoid the risk presented by contaminated soil. The city noted that it was never intended to be used for tent camping.
The city then spent $617,000 to pave and fence the site, but scrapped its plan earlier this year because it had “become prohibitively expensive”, according to the city. This week, several tents lined the paved part of the site, while RVs and other vehicles were parked in the unpaved areas.
At the end of last month, city council voted unanimously to embezzle $19 million away from the city’s plan to build 20 new homeless shelter sites across the city. Instead, he agreed to spend the money on seven affordable housing projects, which will eventually offer more than 800 units across the city.
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