[Hpn] number of homeless in Sacramento is rising -- and so is violence
Wed, 27 Jun 2001 15:44:48 -0700
(Published June 27, 2001)
Little space or sympathy for poor:
The number of homeless in the capital is rising -- and so is violence
By Blair Anthony Robertson
Bee Staff Writer
It began late in the evening, when the midtown streets were dark and barren
and two dozen of the city's downtrodden were curled up on the tiled church
A truck pulled up. Young men hooted and hollered. "You stinking bums," they
shouted. Then the pelting began, a volley of oranges and grapefruits
splattering against the walls of St. Francis Church as the startled homeless
folks scurried for cover. Some of the fruit smashed into the men, women and
children unlucky enough to find themselves sleeping under the stars.
The truck sped off. The laughter faded with the drone of the motor. The
street corner was quiet again.
These days, Sacramento's homeless are becoming easier targets on the city's
street. That's because there are more of them. After a slow, steady drop in
the homeless population since the recession of the mid-1990s, the number of
homeless bedding down on church steps, in the woods along the river and atop
park benches is apparently on the rise again.
Loaves & Fishes, a nonprofit homeless advocacy agency, says it served meals
to 900 homeless people daily in 1995. The number dropped to 700 in January,
officials said, but began creeping upward a few months ago.
The downturn in the economy coupled with increasing rents and other housing
costs may explain part of it. So might the razing of three downtown low-rent
motels in the past year. But homeless advocates say they are baffled by the
growing number of women and children who have no place to turn.
Each afternoon at St. John's Shelter on North C Street, women and children
are turned away, told there is no more room for the night. In April, as the
winter overflow homeless shelter at Cal Expo was shutting down for the
season, the shelter for women and their kids had to say "no room" to 528
"It's not a shortage of money. It's a shortage of will," said Bill Kennedy,
managing attorney for the Sacramento Legal Services of Northern California.
"It's not just 'Not in my back yard.' It's 'Not in my city.' "
Kennedy says the public attitude these days is not only one of impatience
but intolerance. The fruit-throwing teens are only the most-blatant
expressions of anger and wrath. Many people are convinced that homelessness,
a high-profile issue for the past two decades, simply cannot be solved. In
response, cities throughout the nation have been employing a new strategy --
making the homeless less welcome on the streets.
"The homeless are not a welcome population in any neighborhood," said Jan
Gallaway, manager of homeless and disability programs for the Sacramento
County Department of Human Assistance. "It's a shame that people who are in
such need are treated that way."
Angeline Fitzpatrick, co-director of Maryhouse, a daytime center for
homeless women and children at Loaves & Fishes, said scores of women are
getting Section 8 housing vouchers but unable to find apartments to use
them, largely because the high-priced rental market allows landlords to be
fussy about who they accept as tenants.
"Every day, women are saying they have nowhere to go," she said. "They have
been working, they have been homeless for months and they have been doing
One woman who has custody of her young grandson says, "Being on the streets
with a 3-year-old is not easy. I have to constantly be with him. It's
dangerous, but I have been around people who are watching over me."
A common misconception in the so-called new economy of homelessness,
advocates say, is that those on the streets are there by choice, that they
don't want to work, that they will not accept help.
That's not the case with Patricia Imel, 44, a victim of a fruit-pelting
incident last week at St. Francis. Domestic problems with her husband have
left her homeless since March. She works for $7 an hour at a medical
answering service but can't seem to save enough to get back into an
apartment. Landlords, she says, want three months' rent up front.
When she visits Loaves & Fishes to eat, she takes a quick shower and irons
the wrinkles out of her pants, so she will fit in at work. There, no one
suspects she has no home.
Spearheaded by Councilman Dave Jones, Sacramento last year adopted a
mixed-income ordinance that requires 10 percent of housing in new
neighborhoods be set aside for those with very low incomes -- for a family
of four, $26,450 or less.
"It's a crisis for the region," said Jones, who believes several outlying
jurisdictions have ignored their responsibility to the homeless. "I think
people are still sympathetic and want to address this. People understand
that they are paying more in the long run because of this phenomenon."
At the county level, officials are focusing more efforts on sizing up the
problems one case at a time and finding solutions more permanent than
shelters, according to county Supervisor Roger Dickinson.
"There is a level of frustration regarding trying to address the issue of
homelessness. No matter what government tries to do, there are always those
who argue it is the wrong thing or not enough. That comes from both sides of
the issue. We need to do what's necessary to move people out of the
condition of homelessness."
To the homeless who congregate outside the church at K and 26th streets, the
two attacks with fruit last week and other random incidents earlier this
year are humiliating reminders that they are exposed not only the elements
but to reminders at practically every turn that they are scorned, even
despised by many. Advocates for the poor say the hooliganism sends a warning
that this could be a difficult, frustrating summer that local agencies and
charities are ill-prepared to handle.
"We're already out here. We're already sleeping in a hard place," said
Elizabeth Marz, 56. "To be called a bum, I was mad. It's a feeling of being
The prospects seem bleak for Gary Manes, an affable 47-year-old man resting
under a shade tree on the grounds of Sutter's Fort while his wife worked at
Del Taco. Last week, he was robbed. Now, he has a cast on his arm. City
efforts to offer more affordable housing and county programs to get him off
the streets seem so far off for a man with no place to go tonight and
tomorrow and the next day.
The couple won't enter a homeless shelter because they would have to be
separated. They long to scrounge together enough money to find an apartment.
For now, they have to find a place on the steps at the church. And they
brace for what's coming next.
"They're 18 or 19 years old," he said, shrugging at the thought of the
attackers. "They think it's funny, but it's very humiliating."
The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson can be reached at (916) 321-1099 or
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