West Sacramento homeless experience spring cleaning

City cleans house, homeless camper has heart attack

Sabine Merrill and her dog, Princess, left their West Sacramento homeless encampment before police cleared out the area on Wednesday, May 9.

Sabine Merrill and her dog, Princess, left their West Sacramento homeless encampment before police cleared out the area on Wednesday, May 9.

Photo by Nick Miller

Police evicted Steve Kruse from his home last Wednesday—and he nearly died.

“They ran everybody out of here. And then I had a heart attack this morning,” Kruse explained, rather casually.

It’s tragic—and it’s complicated: Kruse lived with his wife in a tent, along with some 100 other campers, according to police estimates, near the Sacramento River’s shore in West Sacramento.

The site, near the Broderick Boat Ramp about a mile north of Raley Field, was home for many homeless. But it also housed unprecedented contamination and garbage—and even experienced tens of thousands of dollars in destruction of city property.

“The amount of trash is just unbelievable,” offered West Sacramento Police Sgt. Nathan Steele. “Everything you can imagine, the worst stuff is just the human feces and the urine.”

Police say they recently zeroed in on the Broderick Boat Ramp area due to neighborhood complaints about “crime and quality-of-life problems.” Last Tuesday, they hired a contractor to erect a chain-link fence around its facilities, which they say were being used and abused by the campers.

Steele noted $50,000 worth of destruction at the park during the past year. “All the electrical was ripped out of the facility. All of the plumbing fixtures and the fish-cleaning station, barbecues destroyed—it’s pretty sad, actually.”

Homeless campers, who say they had nothing to do with the vandalism, were also given notice to evacuate the area by last Wednesday morning—or face arrest and the confiscation of belongings.

So, on Tuesday evening just before sunset, camper Sabine Merrill told SN&R she wasn’t sticking around. “I’ve always had a job, except the past two years,” she explained. “This is my new neighborhood, but me and [her dog] Princess are moving on.”

But Kruse and his wife of eight years, Sonshyne, plus a dozen or so campers, were resolved to stay overnight.

“We’ve lived here problem-free for a year,” he said. “Now, out of nowhere, they say we’re violating a camping code?”

Kruse is no stranger to moving. Prior to camping near Broderick, the Vietnam War veteran had lived near the river in Bryte Park after losing his job eight years ago—until West Sac police ejected him from that stretch of the Sacramento River last spring.

He and others claim the crackdown is part of a new anti-homeless policy in West Sacramento. “They’re taking our pictures and making a photo book of us,” said Sonshyne, who claims she learned this from a code-enforcement officer.

City police say it’s all about keeping the area clean and safe.

“These river cleanups and the camp cleanups are things we’ve progressively done” over the years, explained Steele. He also emphasized the unprecedented amount of waste and trash: The city brought in 10 Dumpsters that hold 35 tons of garbage each, and every one was filled during this week’s spring cleaning.

The sergeant was amazed. “You know the commercial water trucks … from construction sites?” Steele asked. “There was one of those in six pieces out there.”

West Sac police worked with parks and recreation, public works, biologists and even animal control—a security officer was bit by a dog near the boat dock recently—on the cleanup.

“[Campers] were given the opportunity to remove their property,” Steele said. “That what was left behind, that is garbage.”

But campers say they were not given sufficient notice, and that their tents and personal belongings were trashed.

“They locked us out around 9 a.m.” on Wednesday, Kruse explained. “They went in with ‘The Claw,’” or the bulldozer used to pick up street-side green waste in the city, “and clawed everybody’s houses out.”

It was all too much for Kruse: UC Davis confirmed that he was admitted Wednesday morning to its med center—hooked up to an EKG, doctors said he’d suffered two minor heart attacks.

But—shockingly—later that the afternoon, Kruse was back out at the boat docks.

“We have friends here. We have a neighborhood here.”