Sacramento Renews Persecution of Homeless People

Thomas Cagle (nh-adapt@juno.com)
Mon, 11 Oct 1999 05:48:41 -0400


From: ADAPTLA@aol.com

Next time they should try picking on somebody weaker than they are.

are.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

http://www.sacbee.com/news/news/local01_19991010.html

    
Bill McManus, 45, waits for the noon meal at Loaves & Fishes. He says he
has 
been homeless for most of the last seven years. He was cited for illegal 
camping a dozen times before being arrested.


Bee/Dick Schmidt


Cities take hard line on homeless

By Blair Anthony Robertson and Matthew Barrows
Bee Staff Writers 
(Published Oct. 10, 1999)

Sacramento's hardcore homeless, for years a fixture on city streets, are 
being corraled into another kind of temporary housing with three square
meals 
a day -- county jail.
After a decade of putting money into shelters and outreach programs, 
Sacramento has signed on to a nationwide trend that has seen cities
replace 
welcome mats with laws aimed at reclaiming urban centers for businesses, 
shoppers and tourists.

"They're trying to push us further and further away from the general
public 
because we're not good for business," said Sharon Puccetti, 47, who
sleeps at 
a makeshift encampment in the woods along the American River.

No argument there.

>From Sacramento to New York and Marysville to Miami, the newer, harsher 
approach is cracking down on everything from sleeping in parks to body
odor 
in public libraries. Critics insist it is merely an attempt to force the 
homeless out of town altogether.

"I've been arrested five times," said Bill McManus, 45, who has been
homeless 
in Sacramento for most of the last seven years. He says he received more
than 
a dozen tickets for illegal camping and wound up in jail when the unpaid 
citations turned into warrants.

Authorities say homeless like McManus are precisely their targets --
stubborn 
and persistent people seemingly unwilling to accept help or help
themselves.

In a clear sign that they have lost patience, local governments
nationwide 
have teamed with business partnerships and law enforcement agencies to 
transform the way they deal with vagrants:

 Revamped benches with armrests in the middle that encourage sitting, not

sleeping, have been installed. In many towns, benches have been removed 
altogether. 

 Iron fences with pass codes have been erected around once-overrun parks,

including Sacramento's renovated Muir Park at 16th and C streets.

 Social-service workers offer one-way bus tickets to transport vagrants
to a 
relative's home.

 Marysville installed parking-type meters that allow pedestrians to
deposit 
coins for charity rather than deal with beggars. Sacramento and several
other 
cities throughout the country are following suit. Dozens of cities have 
outlawed aggressive panhandling.

 Marysville, among other towns, passed laws prohibiting shopping carts on
the 
street and "Dumpster diving." On Friday, San Francisco police announced
they 
would begin seizing shopping carts held by the homeless and dumping the 
contents into plastic bags.

 Grocery stores are investing in radio-activated wheel locks on shopping 
carts to curb theft. They already employ companies that recover carts,
which 
cost up to $150 each and are the storage bins of choice for the homeless.

 Urban liquor stores keep "black books" and refuse to sell to drunk wagon

repeats.

In city after city, police have been given new marching orders to enforce

once-overlooked laws that address vagrancy.

When that doesn't work, new laws are passed. The most common new laws
address 
panhandling, camping and loitering. Morristown, N.J., and Iowa City,
Iowa, 
among others, cracked down on smelly patrons in libraries.

Years of programs designed to get the homeless off the streets, officials

say, have failed. In 10 years, Sacramento County's spending on homeless 
programs increased from $1.6 million a year to $14 million. The
discouraging 
result: More homeless are on the streets and shelters have regular
vacancies. 
What's more, other towns bus their homeless to Sacramento to take
advantage 
of the services.

"I think people are exhausted by it. They are really tired by the
constancy 
of it," said Sacramento Councilwoman Heather Fargo, who concedes her own 
attitude toward the homeless has changed with time.

While many applaud the efforts, homeless advocates say authorities are
going 
to extremes, coming down hard on those who have hit rock bottom, not only

shooing homeless away from storefronts but trekking deep into the woods
to 
close illegal camps. In some cases, critics say, the approach
criminalizes 
homelessness.

"It's the most godawful waste of money using jail as a substitute for
modest 
housing," said LeRoy Chatfield, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, a 
nonprofit homeless advocacy agency.

In recent weeks, authorities have conducted sweeps in Sacramento along
the 
American River Parkway, where hundreds of homeless like Puccetti make
camp. 
But they're not giving warnings or citations any longer.

"That policy has changed," said Cara Westin, an executive lieutenant with
the 
Sacramento Police Department. "We are now at the point where we are
arresting 
people for camping. We're hoping that taking them to jail is going to
push 
them to get housing."

The approach was approved by the 33-member Sacramento County and Cities
Board 
on Homelessness, which includes law enforcement, community and business 
leaders and homeless advocates.

While some homeless say the new policy is frightening and mean, others
admit 
it has inspired them to find a stable home.

The sweeps are the fourth phase in an approach that began by surveying
the 
homeless population and offering solutions, including one-way bus
tickets.

In the heavily wooded area near the river, a web of trails leads to
dozens of 
camps. About five people at each encampment divide duties -- some collect

water, others get cigarettes, food or money.

A recent visit found the trail overrun with litter, from used toilet
paper to 
food wrappers, old clothes, even tires, all within a short hike of Camp 
Pollock, the Boy Scout facility.

Rangers picked up 15 tons of trash from camps along the river between
late 
June and the end of September. Some were stuck with discarded syringes
for 
their efforts, according to Dave Lydick, a supervisor with the Sacramento

County Park Ranger Service.

"There's the trash, there's the human waste," Lydick said. "Would you let

your kids go hiking down by the river? It's not a safe lifestyle for
anybody."

The initial sweep on Sept. 22-23 brought 29 river campers to jail.

Since 1995, when 20 homeless were cited for camping, 2,500 tickets have
been 
handed out, according to police records. Scores of homeless people 
interviewed in recent weeks said that when they accumulate several
citations 
they do short jail stints to clear their records because they can't pay
the 
fines, often more than $100.

Police are trying to "drive them out of town," Chatfield said. "It's a
type 
of legal harassment."

Some say that's how Roseville has cut its vagrant population. The town is

earning a reputation among the homeless that many residents don't want 
refuted.

"Roseville is hard. They escort you to the county line and tell you not
to 
come back," said Puccetti, who says the homeless want nothing to do with
the 
high-tech center 25 miles east of Sacramento.

Roseville resident Vicky Wingate welcomes the tougher stance.

"It was kind of scary because not only were they on my property, they
were on 
my property using it as a toilet," she said.

Roseville Police Officer Lance Young says authorities are careful to 
distinguish between people down on their luck and entrenched homeless who
use 
drugs and harass passers-by.

If vagrants aren't ticketed for littering, they're nabbed for
trespassing. If 
that doesn't work, they're cited for urinating in public or drinking from

glass containers in parks. And if that fails, Young explains, police go 
undercover to catch panhandlers.

"The fines could get heavy if you keep stacking those up," said the
officer. 
"They need to know that certain types of behavior are not going to be 
tolerated in Roseville."

Marysville's hardball strategy is also getting through to the homeless
and 
triggering interest from cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Now, 
when train-hopping vagrants ride into town they keep on going, said Mark 
Siemens, the Marysville police chief and city administrator. 

The effort is just as intense in Sacramento, where business owners say it
is 
impossible to revitalize the downtown core when people are panhandling or

urinating in alleys and stairwells.

Fargo says the homeless population reached a "critical mass."

Figures are difficult to come by. One measuring stick is the "client"
list at 
Comprehensive Alcoholism Treatment Center, the three-day holding facility
for 
public drunks. Of the 13,563 registered intakes in the past two years,
about 
130 people have been identified as chronic offenders who have been
through 
the program more than a dozen times. A few have gone through "detox" 60
or 
more times, according to program director ClentonIrby.

Such behavior has been giving shopkeepers fits for years.

"About four years ago the business community came to us and said, 'Image
is 
everything,' " said Michael Ault, executive director of the Downtown 
Sacramento Partnership, which represents about 500 businesses.

The Downtown Partnership, one of many new private groups nationwide,
employs 
20 city guides to patrol a 65-square-block area downtown. Nicknamed
"bumble 
bees" because of their yellow and black uniforms, the guides keep
vagrants 
from bothering shoppers and tourists, among other duties. When the guides

spot drunks, they call police.

"I call the bumble bees every time I see somebody asleep on the sidewalk.
It 
makes our block look bad," said Jeff Nassar, owner of Jade Liquor Store
on 
Seventh Street. "I feel sorry for them, but I don't allow them around
here."

Many people say they are torn when they encounter the homeless. They feel
bad 
ignoring panhandlers but uneasy when they hand over money. They worry
that 
many suffer from mental illness but are frightened when homeless people
act 
out.

"I think people lost their patience," said Sister Judy Illig, co-director
of 
Friendship Park at Loaves & Fishes. "I think they really thought that 
whatever program that was in place would solve the problem."

The nun pointed out that many she deals with are simply unable to
function in 
a normal system. The shutdown of mental health facilities, she says, left

them with fewer options.

The lone option George White could conjure on a recent weekday afternoon
was 
to grab some booze and drink himself into a stupor.

"I have emotional difficulties. The only way I can deal with them is to
put 
them on the shelf and get drunk," said White, sitting on a bench at
Capitol 
Park. "Of course, I'm unhappy -- look at me. I'm 58 years old and all of
my 
possessions are in this buggy."

White has been in and out of the city's detox center and recently did a
stint 
in county jail when his illegal camping tickets added up.

Criticism or not, harassment or tough love, the crackdown is getting the 
attention of the homeless.

James Adams, 35, and his fiancee, Linda Scott, 37, have been camping on
the 
American River for weeks. Their clothes are filthy, their body odor
intense. 
Dirt is caked under their fingernails and smeared across their cheeks.

Two weeks ago, they stepped out of the woods to get water for their dogs
when 
the police put them in handcuffs and hustled them off to jail for four
days. 
They say they feel under siege. Now their camp stove, their bicycles and 
blankets are gone and they have to start over.

The crackdown is clearly getting to the couple. They have started looking
for 
an apartment. "We're getting off the streets," said Adams. "We can't take
it 
anymore."

To frustrated cities throughout the country that have begun to limit
options, 
that's the only answer they want to hear.


Coming Oct. 24
For runaway and homeless teenagers in downtown Sacramento, life is cold, 
bitter, lonely and uncomfortable. It can also be addictive. On Sunday,
Oct. 
24, The Bee begins a four-day series about four teens who decided that a 
homeless, hungry life at the edge of the city was better than the places
they 
once called home.
 
  
 Problems? Suggestions? Let us hear from you. / Copyright  The
Sacramento 
Bee  

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