Sacramento to Consider Daytime Ban on Homeless Camps

The city faces several lawsuits over skyrocketing homelessness and calls to curb its growing population of transients camping in public.
Sacramento to Consider Daytime Ban on Homeless Camps
A homeless tent sits on a sidewalk in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Jill McLaughlin

Homeless people could be banned from camping during the daytime in California’s capital city if the city council approves such a plan early next year.

The proposal would also give homeless people access to storage for their belongings.

The city’s Law and Legislation Committee, which is made up of four city councilmen—including two who proposed the legislation—planned to hold a discussion about the proposal Dec. 5 but has delayed it until Jan. 16, 2024.

“The rationale is to provide relief to residents, businesses, and visitors of the city from the impacts of homeless encampments,” City Councilman Rick Jennings and Vice Mayor Eric Guerra wrote in the proposal, which was submitted in September.

In the proposal, the councilmen said there was an equal call to provide services to the homeless and to enforce meaningful, comprehensive, and consistent homeless camp management to enhance the city’s quality of life.

The city faces several lawsuits over skyrocketing homelessness and calls to curb its growing population of transients camping in public.

Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho first filed a civil lawsuit against the city in September, alleging that city leaders violated state code by allowing, creating, and enabling a public safety crisis regarding the homeless population, he said during a September press conference.
He filed a 48-page amended lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court on Dec. 5, claiming that the city has allowed its homeless population to pollute the American and Sacramento rivers with human waste and trash from nearby campsites.

“This amendment will allow us to focus on the violations that cause the most significant harm to the health and safety of everyone in the community, including environmental hazards that impact people and wildlife,” Mr. Ho said in a statement provided to The Epoch Times.

The amended lawsuit alleges that the city created a public nuisance, violated public nuisance statutes, and is in violation of state regulations regarding the waterway pollution.

Mr. Ho claims in the lawsuit that homeless campers who set up along creeks and rivers in the area use the waterways as toilets and to wash clothing and other items, hurting fish and wildlife.

“The occupants of the zones utilize the waterways to wash clothing, cooking utensils, dishes, and other personal items,” the district attorneys said in the amended claim. “The food waste and soaps and detergents used are deleterious to aquatic life. The zone inhabitants also utilize the waterways as open toilets and trash receptacles.”

Human waste is also found along bridge railings, walls, and along the shoreline, which is washed into the Sacramento River by winds and rising water during winter storms, according to the lawsuit.

But according to Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, a regional coalition of former homeless people, attorneys, and others who advocate the civil rights of homeless people and affordable housing, said the district attorney’s latest allegations are false.

“It’s just a lie on the part of the [district attorney],” Mr. Erlenbusch told The Epoch Times. “Some scientists did a study of feces in the American River. It’s not human feces, it’s actually bird feces.”

The coalition has pushed for years for the city to provide trash pickup at the encampments near the river, he said, but the call has not been answered.

As for banning daytime camping as proposed by city councilmen, Mr. Erlenbusch said it would be counterproductive.

“Where are people supposed to go during the daytime?” he said.

A homeless person pulls a cart of items on a sidewalk in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A homeless person pulls a cart of items on a sidewalk in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The coalition has watched as the city’s unhoused population grew after the COVID-19 pandemic. The city now has about 10,000 homeless people, and about 7,000 of those live outside because of the lack of shelter available, according to Mr. Erlenbusch.

According to the city’s most recent point-in-time count, which is conducted bi-annually, the city has seen a 250 percent jump in homelessness over the past seven years and a 68 percent increase from 2019 to 2022.

If the city banned daytime camping, those living outside would have to spend most of the day packing up their belongings and survival gear, to take to a storage unit. Then, after spending a couple of hours hanging around, they would spend the rest of the day taking it back out of storage to set up for the night, according to Mr. Erlenbusch.

“It doesn’t make one bit of sense,” he added. “It’s such a waste of time.”

In an effort to curb homeless camping on sidewalks, the city passed an updated sidewalk ordinance that went into effect September 2022. It requires at least four feet of space to remain clear on sidewalks for pedestrians and cyclists to pass and requires that at least four feet around business entrances and exits remains clear.

City law also restricts homeless people from camping within 500 feet of schools and 25 feet of critical infrastructure, which includes schools, hospitals, medical facilities, sports arenas, parks, and other places. This leaves few places for the homeless to stay, according to Mr. Erlenbusch.

Mr. Ho said he supports the proposed new camping law.

“It is a long overdue step in the right direction to address our unhoused crisis on the streets and along our rivers,” Mr. Ho said in a statement on Dec. 5.

As of Nov. 20, the city had removed nearly 263,000 pounds of trash from homeless encampments since starting a new effort with the county at the end of 2022 to respond to the camps.
Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.
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