Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson commits to finding 'safe ground' site

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 - 8:30 am

Mayor Kevin Johnson on Tuesday pledged his commitment for creating a sanctioned "safe ground" for as many as 100 homeless campers in Sacramento, calling it a final piece of the area's mosaic of programs to shelter needy people.

"I believe we have waited too long" to create a place where homeless people can legally sleep outside with basic services and access to programs that can help them become more stable, he said at his weekly news conference. "We've studied this for three years. This is not that complicated."

Currently, about 100 campers have pitched tents on the south side of the American River near 10th Street, and the City Council was scheduled to take up the controversial matter for the first time Tuesday night.

Johnson urged some of the campers to join the "nomadic shelter" program, in which homeless men and women sleep in rotating houses of worship on cold winter nights.

Wells Fargo salvaged that program this week by contributing $75,000 to keep it running through March.

The mayor called that program, along with a successful effort to find permanent housing for more than 2,300 people during the past two years, one of his proudest achievements.

"I'm trying to curtail my emotions," he said in thanking Wells Fargo for its gift.

But the nomadic program can host a maximum of only 100 people nightly, and most other shelters are full during the winter, so a safe ground encampment is still necessary, said Joan Burke of Loaves & Fishes homeless services.

Burke said the nonprofit Safe Ground has identified two pieces of property, one in the county and one in the city, that could serve as encampments with services for up to 100 people.

Councilman Jay Schenirer said he toured the encampment recently and met some of those sleeping outside.

"I look forward to the discussion about Safe Ground at the City Council," he said. "I think we can build a new sports and entertainment complex, and I think we also can take care of the homeless."

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