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  • MANNY CRISOSTOMO / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

    After spending all day taking down her tent and packing her possessions, a tearful Angela Burden seeks some comfort from her dog. More than 40 Sacramento police officers evicted some 150 homeless people Wednesday from an illegal campground along the American River.

  • MANNY CRISOSTOMO / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

    A man known as "Brother Eli" is arrested by Sacramento police. He was the only homeless person arrested in Wednesday's eviction.

  • MANNY CRISOSTOMO / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

    Sacramento city officials said the eviction of some 150 homeless people by Sacramento police officers Wednesday was needed to protect the environment along the American River, satisfy nearby property owners and ensure an anti-camping law is enforced evenly.

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Sacramento homeless evicted from American River camp

Published: Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Friday, Dec. 30, 2011 - 11:28 am

Wednesday was moving day for a significant portion of Sacramento's homeless.

Under threat of arrest, about 150 people camping along the American River packed up their tents, camp stoves and sleeping bags and moved on.

How many were indoors by nightfall is unknown.

In a matter of weeks, a small group camping between a row of warehouses and the American River Bike Trail north of downtown and supported by the homeless advocacy group Safe Ground Sacramento grew into a camp of more than 100 tents with several distinct camps within the camp.

Some campers embraced the Safe Ground rules, designed to show that a homeless encampment could be orderly and clean. Other individuals or groups pitched their tents nearby but preferred to remain independent.

City officials said Wednesday's eviction was needed to protect the environment along the river, satisfy nearby property owners and ensure the city's anti-camping law was enforced evenly.

Sacramento police spokesman Sgt. Andrew Pettit said he didn't know where the campers would go.

"Our concern (today) is this concentration along the American River Bike Trail," Pettit said.

The city officials and the faith community have acted to get nearly 60 additional shelter beds for homeless men and women, but that's less than half the number that had been camping at the American River site.

Included in the new beds were 20 hotel vouchers provided by the city, though throughout the day Wednesday, many campers seemed unsure whether they would qualify for them.

Earlier this month, with support from Safe Ground, many of the homeless campers told the media they intended to stay and face arrest rather than be forced from one illegal campsite to another. But on Wednesday, they moved.

A man everyone calls "Brother Eli," a leader of one of the independent groups of campers, was the only one arrested. He said the camp is where God wants him to be. When the police told him to pack his things and go, he politely declined and peacefully allowed himself to be handcuffed and placed in a squad car.

"They asked me what I'm going to do," said Eli, who declined to give his first name. "I said 'I don't have anywhere to go.' "

Eli, 60, said he's an ordained minister and was a carpenter before he lost his house several years ago.

"What more can I lose? I'm just losing a tent," he said.

Police officials said Eli would be cited and released, but that his belongings would be kept as evidence.

After Eli was taken away, rubber-gloved police officers began stuffing his belongings in clear plastic bags. They were mildly surprised that within Eli's tarp-covered 12-foot-by-10-foot dome tent was a smaller dome tent, apparently to provide extra protection from cold nights.

The sub-camp that Eli helped run also featured a group of storage tents and tents for men's and women's toilets.

While some angrily complained about being forced to move, Tiki "Butterfly" Randle said that, for her, it marks a new beginning. A resident of the Safe Ground campsite, she said she met her boyfriend there, and together with her two cats, they were getting an apartment and moving inside.

Christmas hymnals played over a boombox as she and Jeremiah Sbrender packed up several tents and the Safe Ground kitchen.

"I found someone clean and sober," Randle said. "Because of Safe Ground, I'm not lost."

If or when the Safe Ground camp re-forms, it will have to find a new cook. Randle cooked group meals using a camp stove, but there were also barbeque grills and fire pits dispersed among the camps.

Randle and Eli represented two of the more conversational campers. Some seemed to have mental health issues. Others wanted nothing to do with speaking to or being photographed by the media.

Her efforts to pack her tent interrupted, Kazoo Yang, 31, attempted to explain her situation. In the morning, she couldn't say where she would go. By the afternoon, she was gone.

Tim Brooks, 31, wouldn't say where he's going next.

With some help from his friends, he packed up several bike trailers full of stuff and set out. He said maybe it would be best if he didn't camp with so many people next time.

For those unable to move their own belongings, assistance was available. Safe Ground staff made several trips with a Toyota Prius to move propane tanks, generators, stoves and other gear. Police volunteers were also there to help.

One woman loaded up her dog and belongings into a volunteer's white truck and said, "Let's go." Asked where to, she pointed out along the American River Parkway and said, "over there."

Police spokesman Pettit said volunteers were instructed to take campers to a shelter or a storage facility where they could secure their belongings. Whether that happened in every case is unclear.

Councilman Jay Schenirer, who supports the idea of a permanent homeless camp, said the current situation wasn't environmentally sound.

He said short-term and long-term housing options have shown some improvement.

"I don't think this is a problem that we are ever going to solve, but we need to keep chipping away at it," Schenirer said.

Steve Watters, executive director of Safe Ground, said Wednesday's action did no good. He said the city made a mistake by not allowing his organization to improve sanitation by bringing in port-a-potties.

"Now they have scattered the problem all around," Watters said. "I think it makes it worse. This isn't solving anything."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ed Fletcher



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