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Thursday, December 1, 2022

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Guest Column: Some hope for residents fed up with homeless camps, trash


Homeless camp
File photo, Trash left at an apparent camp site in Northwoods Park. // CH Sentinel

By Supervisor Sue Frost–
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 11 unanimously approved two ordinances that will ban homeless encampments in several important locations.  As this was an intensely controversial vote, and since homelessness is by far the number one issue that constituents talk with me about, I wanted to take the time to explain the details of these ordinances, and why I wholeheartedly supported them.

Sue Frost, supervisor
Sue Frost

The ordinances do several key things.  First and foremost, they ban homeless encampments from the American River Parkway and the Dry Creek Parkway. They also ban camps near any critical infrastructure, schools, and libraries.  And they also ban the use or maintenance of a container with flammable or combustible liquid or a generator.

Now these all seem like fairly obvious things, and you are likely wondering why these were not already illegal and why it’s taken until now to crack down on this.  It all stems from a ridiculous 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision back in 2018 which declared that local governments cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough homeless shelter beds available for their homeless population. So these things were illegal locally, but were then overridden due to a court decision.

So what changed? The Sacramento County lawyers have been studying this issue and have found that while we cannot make homeless encampments illegal everywhere, we can deem some areas as off-limits.  While it’s likely there will be a lawsuit in the future that tests this, our lawyers feel confident that these bans are legally justifiable and will hold up in court.  If our lawyers thought we could do more than this, I would have also supported it – but they believe this is as far as we can safely go without jeopardizing county taxpayers with costly lawsuits.

I have just finished conducting seven community meetings in various parts of my district, and I heard the same thing at each of them.  The vast, vast majority of my constituents are fed up.  The homeowners and renters, especially those with young children, say that they are not alright with the status quo.  These people pay their taxes, and rightly expect to be able to walk outside in safety without trash, human excrement, and homeless encampments.

They also largely agree that throwing money at the problem is clearly not working.  We continue to spend money on new housing options, as well as drug/alcohol/mental health treatment (the things I consider to be the root cause of homelessness), but our homeless population is growing at a rapid pace even as we massively increase homeless spending.  People who want help can seek it and are given support, but how do we hold those accountable who don’t want the help?

I believe that the long term solution to our homeless problem in Sacramento County is in our new “safe stay” encampments that we are actively building as I write this.  These are essentially low-cost tiny home villages that have full-time staff at them to keep it safe, clean, and provide substance abuse and mental health treatment to homeless people.

Building these will allow us to then go to our homeless encampments in our neighborhoods and give them a choice. They can either move into these sanctioned encampments, or they can move somewhere else – but they can’t stay there.

If they move into our safe stay sites, great! We can then move them somewhere safe, clean, and off the streets.  If they decline that and move somewhere else, great! We can clean up the site, not allow these encampments to grow into the huge sites we have now, and they can keep repeating this cycle of getting their camp moved until they actually accept the help they need.

Working towards solutions for homelessness is, and has been my number one priority for several years now.  You have my commitment to find ways to legally get around these absurd court decisions, and bring back safety and cleanliness to our neighborhoods.  I won’t stop fighting to get homeless people the help they desperately need to get off the streets, and I won’t stop fighting to bring peace and safety to our community.

Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost formerly served as a Citrus Heights councilwoman and currently represents District 4, which includes Citrus Heights.  She can be contacted at (916) 874-5491, or SupervisorFrost@saccounty.net.

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