• Thu. Dec 8th, 2022

Sacramento sheriff and DA homeless camp target Fair Oaks

Two Sacramento County law enforcement agencies are soliciting information about a highly visible homeless encampment on Fair Oaks Boulevard within the Sacramento city limits in a way that suggests they are plotting some sort of lawsuit.

Efforts by the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office — which include asking residents to fill out forms, submit photos and describe any illegal activity they’ve observed — could signal that the tension between the city and the county over the homeless crisis has reached a boiling point.

The camp sits on city-owned grassy land near the corner of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue, a busy commercial strip characterized by apartment buildings and the University Village shopping center.

For more than a year, about thirty men and women have been living there in tents. City officials have visited the site and offered services that could help people find housing, but the city is not moving to clean up the encampment.

City officials say a 2018 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, known as Martin v. Boise, limits their ability to clean up homeless camps. The ruling bars cities and counties from citing people for camping on public property unless a shelter bed is available. All Sacramento shelters are full every night.

“The fact is, recent court cases now require cities to follow strict protocols when dealing with homeless encampments,” Deputy City Manager Chris Conlin said in a written statement. “The City of Sacramento is actively following this process as it relates to the Howe/Fair Oaks encampment and will continue its work in helping homeless people while addressing issues that arise from the encampments.”

The Boise decision is vague in some respects, however, opening it up to different interpretations by the city and county.

Sheriff’s deputies distributed surveys to area businesses and apartment complexes last month. The survey, called the “Neighborhood Nuisance Reduction Questionnaire,” asks respondents to write down any activity they have seen that is “illegal or harmful,” asks if camp is causing a decrease in property values ​​and asks what happens when they report problems to the city.

It also hints at potential legal filings.

The survey, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, reads: “Are you prepared to sign a written statement prepared by the District Attorney’s Office to be filed with Superior Court?”

Another social media post, obtained by The Bee, appears to be the text of an email from the sheriff’s office asking people to submit inquiries if they have been “negatively impacted” by the camp. The post gives a deadline of Wednesday.

Dina Steffani, 53, wipes away tears as she stands outside her tent on Friday near a small table with a flowering plant. “I pray everyday that someone will stop and pick me up and take me home with them,” she said. “I don’t want to be here anymore.” The plot of land where she is camping near the corner of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue is owned by the City of Sacramento, but the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office appear to be preparing to file a lawsuit against the town about the camp. Renee C. Byer rbyer@sacbee.com

DA hears ‘many complaints’ about camp

The district attorney’s office did not respond to a question about what it plans to do with the information it is seeking, but did provide a statement.

“The District Attorney’s Office is very concerned about the conditions at the corner of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue and the impact these conditions are having on public safety, criminal activity and quality of life in the areas. surrounding this intersection,” the chief assistant district attorney said. says Rod Norgaard.

“We have received many complaints from community members, including local business owners, that the conditions are affecting the entire community and surrounding neighborhoods. We are currently investigating whether these conditions are injurious to health, indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property in such a way as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property,” it said. he declares.

Civil rights attorney Mark Merin, who frequently represents homeless people in city and county lawsuits, said the posts reflected a split in the agencies’ approach to homelessness. He noted that Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones is running for Congress this year, while District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert is running for Attorney General.

“It’s really a county and DA campaign against city management, city government and city police,” Merin said. “It’s pretty amazing. This shows a very deep conflict.

A sign clearly indicates that a homeless encampment at the corner of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue is within the city limits. Now it appears that the district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices are preparing to file a lawsuit against the city over the encampment. Renee C. Byer rbyer@sacbee.com

“Much safer than the river”

The window of Jessica Lady’s apartment overlooks the camp directly. She wrote in the inquest about how homeless people disfigured themselves in a dumpster, stole items from the laundry room and used the laundry room sink to bathe, she said declared. She urged the city and county to open up vacant buildings to use as shelters.

“No one should live on the streets,” Lady said. “It’s such a shame that I have a view in the front row.”

Residents of the encampment this week said the site was safer than other places in town, in part because it was near businesses and a busy road.

Sick of rampant crime and safety issues on the American River Parkway, over a year ago two people walked about half a mile from the river to the lot and set up their tents.

“They were harassed, robbed at gunpoint, beaten, fires were set in popular camps in retaliation, people died there,” said Joy Gonzalez, who lives in the camp and in is the unofficial spokesperson. She had also suffered violence on the river.

“I’ve been beaten, held against my will, had my dog ​​stolen,” said Gonzalez, who grew up in Carmichael.

Jamie Gardner, known as the mother of camp, agreed.

“It’s much safer than the river,” said Gardner, 55, who grew up in Arden, adding that she had been robbed before at knifepoint. “It’s creepy and scary out there.”

On Friday morning, cars streaked all over the place, but at least we saw them, they said. At night, the area is well lit, surrounded by grocery stores and parking lots. It’s a stark contrast to the dark woods of the boardwalk, where rangers estimate up to 2,000 people live homeless.

Jamie Gardner, 55, said on Friday she would have to return to the river where she does not feel safe if she is kicked out of the homeless encampment where she now lives at the corner of Fair Oaks Blvd. Howe. Renee C. Byer rbyer@sacbee.com

Price excluding accommodation

People camping on the grounds said they wanted to be in accommodation, but it was hard to find. Gonzalez receives Social Security and food stamps, and still cannot afford housing. A studio in Sacramento usually costs at least $1,100 per month.

The city’s Community Response Department visited the site Thursday to help people dispose of trash and provide services.

A city worker spoke to Dina Steffani, 53, about the new Safe Ground opening in Miller Park this week. They told her to call Tuesday to get on the list, she said. Flowers lay on a table outside his tent, next to a lime-green sign that reads, “Jesus loves you.”

“I’m going to be first on this list,” said Steffani, who was a nurse before she was in a car accident. “I want to get out of here so badly. I don’t feel human at all. Dogs live like that.

Gonzalez said she was disappointed the sheriff’s office didn’t tell them about the investigations.

“I think it’s one-sided,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s unethical and wrong.”

She is, however, grateful that the city has not brushed them off.

“For some reason, someone in the city has more empathy,” she said. “They are the nicer of the two parents.”

Terence King, 37, stirs oatmeal inside a homeless encampment on Friday near the corner of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue where he has lived for two months. “I don’t know where I would go,” King said if he was kicked out. Renee C. Byer rbyer@sacbee.com

Jamie Gardner, 55, hugs his dog as he explains how camping on a patch of land near the corner of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue is much safer than camping along the river in Sacramento. “It’s scary and it’s scary out there. I was chased at knifepoint,” Gardener said Friday. Renee C. Byer rbyer@sacbee.com

Joy Gonzalez, 50, holds her dog Durango, as she explains Friday why she moved from the river to a homeless encampment on Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue. “I was beaten and held against my will. They stole my dog, my best friend,” said Gonzalez, who said she felt safe now. Renee C. Byer rbyer@sacbee.com

This story was originally published February 5, 2022 9:11 a.m.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she covered local government in newspapers in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.