A reason to doubt the count

Government agencies rousted dozens of homeless people days before volunteers were supposed to count the number of homeless people

The remnants of a massive homeless camp on Stockton Boulevard days before Sacramento County conducted in its biennial Point-in-Time count.

The remnants of a massive homeless camp on Stockton Boulevard days before Sacramento County conducted in its biennial Point-in-Time count.

Photo by Raheem F. Hosseini

The two men surveyed the sodden grounds of their rapidly dwindling camp and prepared to follow the exodus.

At one time, the sweeping tract spanning nearly two city blocks of Stockton Boulevard housed as many as 150 homeless people, they estimated. Now, there were maybe 30-odd tents and lean-tos scattered around the edges of the disheveled property, as well as the piled-up clothing, blankets and trash of people leaving in a hurry.

The one who called himself Mark was toiling toward a more organized flight. He said he had been trudging with heavier items, mostly cooking equipment, to a storage unit so that, when Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies got around to him and his wife, they could be gone in 10 minutes flat.

“I’ve been in this situation for almost three years,” Mark told SN&R. “I call it the shuffle.”

On January 28, two days before a biennial homeless census attempted to quantify the number of people living outdoors in Sacramento County, some of the officials responsible for conducting it were coordinating this mass eviction. At the camp, people could have been easily counted. Forced out, they may or may not have been found by volunteers during the two-night Point-in-Time count.

For homeless advocates working on the ground, it was the kind of tone-deaf, logistically inept action they’ve come to expect from government leaders.

“There’s so much non-communication,” said Crystal Rose Sanchez, who tried to buy the camp’s occupants more time by organizing a site clean-up last week. “They’re just kind of leaving them hanging.”

The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency prompted the removal of property and people, though the agency didn’t admit that easily to SN&R.

SHRA public information officer Angela Jones went to great lengths to sidestep the question of responsibility, at first deferring comment to the Sheriff’s Department, then asking what adjacent property owners had to say, then issuing a non-responsive statement, then writing that she was “not aware that the Agency made any request for service at the property other than to coordinate with the joint agencies to plan for the cleanup and fencing of the property.”

“I trust this will be useful for your story,” Jones added in an email.

County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, in whose district most of the property lies, and City Councilman Eric Guerra confirmed that SHRA initiated the clean-up of the property, which they said consists of several parcels owned by SHRA, the county and its redevelopment successor agency.

Kennedy and Guerra were scheduled to meet this week with stakeholders to discuss long-gestating plans to build affordable housing on the land.

“The future use of that land will be affordable housing,” Guerra said.

In her emailed statement, Jones described what happened at the site as a “coordinated effort” by SHRA, the Sheriff’s Department and county Department of Human Assistance “to clean up an unsightly accumulation of trash … in preparation for the construction of permanent fencing around the property.”

Her statement added that the Department of Human Assistance provided outreach to the camp’s occupants, which she said included “information about resources that are available to provide food, medical services and other needs.”

Mark said he received no such referrals, and only learned from his neighbors that they had to leave.

“They didn’t say nothin’ to me,” he added. “Did they come and say something and I was gone to the library charging my battery or my phone or something?”

Mark said he and his wife had lived on the lot for approximately three months. At the time he spoke to SN&R, he said she was away volunteering with a statewide homemaker association while he kept an eye on their belongings.

“When there was more of us out here, we kept [looking out] for each other and everything was pretty much OK,” Mark said. “Everyone kept their trash up. We had one guy who had a truck. Everybody pooled money to take it to the dump. And the community started helping. They started coming out here bringing food, coming [to] take trash away. … And that was nice.”

Mark said he didn’t know where he and his wife would go next. His white-haired friend said he recently found an apartment, but that rent and utilities would leave nothing left of his Supplemental Security Income.

“Take your whole check,” said the man, who declined to provide his name. “Thank God I know how to pick cans up, do my little hustle.”

Mark said he and his wife couldn’t afford an apartment and weren’t on the county’s waiting list for limited housing subsidies. He said he recently returned from Guest House Homeless Clinic, which provides outpatient mental health services and medication. As the construction equipment droned in the background, he prepared to finish packing.

“It’s like I tell people, ‘There’s no rule book to homelessness,” he said. “‘There’s no handbook. And it’s hell out there. And once you get out there, it’s hard to get back in.’”