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  • RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

    The homeless who erected more than 40 tents near an American River levee in Sacramento spent Friday pondering their next move. Police recently issued an eviction notice to dismantle the camp.

  • RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

    Sister Libby Fernandez, left, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, leads the homeless and their supporters in a prayer at their camp site on North 10th Street near the American River in Sacramento. Homeless advocates are seeking a transitional housing site.

Tent city campers say they aren't leaving

Published: Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011 - 2:25 pm

Dozens of Sacramento homeless people said Friday they're tired of being herded back and forth and would rather risk arrest than comply with a recent police order to take down their tent city and move on.

"I'm not going anywhere," said the man everyone calls Brother Eli. "They want us to play cat and mouse.

"What do I have to lose? I've already lost everything," said Eli, 60, who said he lost his home and his vehicles to money woes.

More than 40 tents are lined up between a chain link fence and the levee holding back the American River at the end of North 10th Street.

On Friday the camp was free of litter and there were no foul odors. As members of the media left after a news conference, men returned to heating water on a camp stove.

The encampment – and the determination to buck the police eviction notice – are being supported by Safe Ground Sacramento, a nonprofit group that hopes to secure land for a transitional housing compound.

Steve Watters, executive director of Safe Ground Sacramento, thanked city and county officials for their efforts to provide housing for the homeless, but said there are not enough beds for everyone. He said the camp is needed and Safe Ground is willing to fund portable toilets and dumpsters to help residents keep it clean.

Eli is one step ahead.

In his camp within the camp, one tent houses a portable camp toilet for men, another has one for women. A third tent not used for sleeping is a collective storage area.

He said the camp residents are good people who, for one reason or another, got chewed up by society.

"This guy is an artist," he said pointing to a woven wicker basket. "This guy was a chiropractor. This guy is a poet with a fourth-grade education."

Sgt. Andrew Pettit, a spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department, confirmed that the illegal campers were recently given notice about the city's camping ordinance.

But he said he doesn't think the city has determined if or when the police will take action to issue tickets or make arrests.

"We prefer that they leave on their own," Pettit said.

He couldn't say where they might go, simply stating: "We have to enforce what is in front of us."

Stacy Selmants, 54, said she, too, will stand her ground. She said she took a break from working in communications and consulting to care for her ailing mother. Her mother is now in a home, but Selmants can't find work.

Civil rights attorney Mark Merin linked the homeless struggle with the Occupy Sacramento movement.

"For the city to come in here and wreck this camp without an alternative is just terrible," he said.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ed Fletcher



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