Safe Ground plans a weeklong, mini ‘tent city’ in downtown Sacramento

The group says permanent encampment is coming soon; Alkali Flat residents direct ire at city leadersSafe Ground plans a small tent city in downtown's Alkali Flat neighborhood next week; residents direct ire at city leaders

Independent reporting for this story is funded by a grant from Sacramento Emergency Foodlink.
More information about Safe Ground Sacramento is at

This week, homeless camps will be moving from the American River’s banks to downtown. But it’s not what you think.

Safe Ground Sacramento, the nonprofit dedicated to protecting homeless residents and helping them find a safe place to sleep, will host a weeklong arts, education and music event on the corner of 12th and C streets.

Slated to begin on Wednesday, May 1, the Safe Ground Stake Down hopes to raise both funds and awareness for the nonprofit’s ongoing efforts to find land where homeless people can stay and not be asked to leave.

But the downtown neighborhood’s residents and landlords are protesting the Stake Down. Organizers want to include a small “tent city” as part of the event. Residents say they weren’t informed of the Stake Down until very recently, and now are concerned the encampment will affect the area’s safety and sanitation. Some even worry that a few nights of camping could turn into something more long term.

With this in mind, the city held an open discussion involving both residents and Stake Down representatives on Monday, April 22.

“I think it’s a slap in the face for this location,” said Gary Federer, board member of the Alkali and Mansion Flats Historic Neighborhood Association.

A longtime resident and staunch critic of the Stake Down, Federer added that the lot’s soil toxicity levels should be tested before the event can take place.

Other residents, concerned about an influx of homeless people in their neighborhood, asked officials and organizers how they intend to keep the Stake Down under control regarding crowds, sanitation and safety.

City officials outlined the restrictions for the event established in the permit, which demand crowds no larger than 49 people, no on-site cooking, no more than three consecutive nights of camping and sufficient garbage receptacles.

Meanwhile, Stake Down representatives Ron Javor and Cathleen Williams promised a clean and educational environment. They insist the neighborhood’s well-being is a primary concern.

The lot on which they plan to hold the Stake Down belongs to Safe Ground representative and social-justice lawyer Mark Marin.

Not all Alkali Flat residents were convinced, but frustrations by the end of the meeting were directed less toward homeless advocates and more toward city officials, who have been promising tangible answers to the homelessness problem for years.

According to Steve Watters, head of Safe Ground Sacramento, things are starting to move forward.

“Right now, we’ve had the most progress in all the time I’ve been with Safe Ground,” he said.

In recent months, councilmen Jay Schenirer and Allen Warren have said they are open to hosting sites in their districts. In fact, a lot for the region’s first permanent Safe Ground could be chosen within the next 50 to 90 days.

When asked about the issues between city residents and homeless advocates, Watters replied, “We’re all on the same side.”