Online petition drums up support for ending Sacramento's camping ban

Ordinance seen as attack on city’s homeless residents

An online petition to halt an anti-camping ordinance that mostly affects Sacramento city homeless residents had gathered 77 signatures and counting by Sunday evening, four days after its release.

The campaign was launched by the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, which called for an immediate moratorium on the local law until a separate plan to build 1,500 rapid rehousing units for homeless people was completed.

That won't happen right away. The rehousing units are one component of a downtown housing initiative the Sacramento City Council approved last month. The initiative calls for 10,000 new housing units to be built in the central downtown corridor over the next 10 years. Sixty percent of those would be sold or rented at market rate, 25 percent intended for working class residents and the remaining 15 percent to immediately house those without shelter.

The rapid rehousing strategy has been gaining steam in numerous cities, and employs a housing-first model that connects unsheltered individuals with whatever services they need once they are housed.

In a release announcing the petition drive, the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, or SRCEH, cited two shifts in national policy to make its case for suspending the city's camping prohibition on non-recreational campers, a.k.a. people with nowhere else to go.

First, the U.S. Department of Justice recently opined that anti-camping laws were unconstitutional if communities were not providing sufficient shelters for their homeless citizens. And second, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it would hold homeless-criminalization policies against municipalities when it considers doling out federal grants, which HUD does a lot.

In his release, SRCEH Executive Director Bob Erlenbusch said it was clear that both the city and county of Sacramento were “out-of-step with federal homeless policy.”

It’s county park rangers that issue citations to homeless campers along the American River Parkway. According to data cited by SRCEH, park rangers issued 1,156 citations and dismantled 682 camps during a 15-month period ending in June.

Crediting the homeless-service coordinator Sacramento Steps Forward with helping people navigate the county’s fractured safety net system, Erlenbusch said the missing piece remained the absence of housing options for the 2,600 or so individuals estimated to be living outdoors on any given night in Sacramento.

“It is not a crime to be homeless, but it is criminal to continue to criminalize people who the City and County have given no other option but to live outside,” he said in the release.