[Hpn] Placer County, CA - County targets illegal camps - Sacramento Bee - August 1, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Thu, 01 Aug 2002 14:50:41 -0500


County targets illegal camps
Deputies are on the lookout for unsanitary conditions at camps used by the
homeless.
As consultants warn Placer County to increase indoor shelter for homeless
people, officials are closing tent camps that shelter people outdoors
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By Roger Phelps - Sacramento Bee - August 1, 2002

Even as consultants warn Placer County to increase indoor shelter for
homeless people, officials are considering closing tent camps that
shelter people outdoors.

Responding to two complaints, sheriff's deputies July 17 evicted
several homeless people from a camp on Placer County property.

Officials are investigating whether other homeless camps cause legal
violations that could justify evicting people, said sheriff's Capt.
Rick Armstrong.

The camps all are on private property, and some have prompted
complaints, he said.

Residents of a camp in a corner of the county's DeWitt Center property
in North Auburn said deputies and county crews July 17 confiscated and
hauled away possessions worth $600 to $1,000 after using a bulldozer
to pile the items onto a truck bed.

"We lost everything -- tents, stoves, sleeping gear, food, personal
papers including identification, a watch and medications," said former
camp resident Robert Borden. "That was just my girlfriend and I.
Another man also lost his property -- a cot, cooking stuff, a tarp and
a sleeping bag."

Armstrong said complaints alleging unlawful disposal of sewage caused
a nuisance for nearby businesses. He said the incident served as a
reminder of complaints about other homeless camps.

An update of the housing element for the county general plan says the
county lacks a permanent shelter and has an inadequate motel-voucher
program for homeless people, particularly those who are not part of a
family unit.

A soon-to-be-released census of Placer County homeless people,
conducted by a consultant under contract with the city of Roseville,
shows a sizable jump in numbers from the estimated 1,000 homeless
people surveyed two years ago, people familiar with the draft census
said. Specific numbers were not released because the final version of
the report has not been completed.

The camps are "behind any of the shopping centers -- anywhere there
are fields adjacent," Armstrong said. "If you get in a helicopter, you
can see them from the air."

Deputies used a bulldozer and didn't permit camp residents at the
DeWitt Center site to remove their belongings because of health
concerns and because residents had previous instructions to vacate,
Armstrong said.

He said deputies followed procedures that are standard at the county
jail for preventing spread of communicable disease -- wearing gloves
and masks to avoid coming into direct contact with individuals,
clothing or possessions.

Deputies in previous visits to the campsite found no evidence of
latrines being dug for sanitary purposes, Armstrong said. The lack of
latrines prompted the complaint that led to the evictions.

Residents were first told to vacate June 10, Armstrong said. However,
Tex, a camp resident who declined to give her last name, said she
first heard of the notice only hours before the eviction occurred.

Armstrong said deputies visited the camp at 9:12 a.m., repeated
previous instructions to leave and returned at 1:50 p.m. with the
bulldozer.

For the rest of the homeless camps around the county, conditions that
could lead to evictions include unlawful disposal of sewage, littering,
illegal camping and trespassing, Armstrong said.

An investigation has been launched with the intent of driving people
out of any camps deemed unsanitary enough that the health of camp
residents or passers-by is threatened, he said.

"There's going to be more," Armstrong said. "We're going to take other
camps on if we find them in violation of the law. The driving force is
the sewage."

Private property owners initially are responsible for preventing
offenses on their properties, so the county will notify an owner if it
finds violations at a site, Armstrong said. After that, deputies will
evict people as they deem necessary, he said.

Authors of the general plan's housing element advised county officials
their applications for grants to assist the homeless show gaps in
shelter and care services.

To meet state requirements, Placer County over the next seven years
needs to provide 1,800 units for families of four making $45,000 or less
annually and 2,200 units for families making $28,000 or less per year.

Advocates for affordable housing said they were not pleased by the
prospects of more crackdowns on homeless camps.

"That's shocking," said Mark Bledsoe, housing-resource specialist for
Placer Independent Resources Services in Auburn. "Rather than provide
services, it seems they want to run people off."

Placer County spends about $250,000 a year on vouchers for motel stays
for homeless people.

The county has no plans to create a permanent shelter, but it ought to do
more to assist people who are homeless, said Maureen Bauman, director
of the county's Adult System of Care.

"Homelessness is a statewide issue," Bauman said. "Permanent housing
is the true solution."


Roger Phelps can be reached at (530) 887-2300 or rphelps@sacbee.com
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