Judge limits Sacramento campers at homeless fair

Published: Wednesday, May. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 2, 2013 - 7:48 am

A judge on Tuesday denied a request to allow people to camp overnight for the weeklong duration of a homeless fair that begins today at 12th and C streets in Sacramento.

The judge affirmed a city permit that allows the campers to remain at the Safe Ground Stake Down event for three days – but not the full seven days requested by civil rights attorney Mark Merin.

"They're eviscerating the whole event, which is to give homeless people a place where they can be legally for seven days," Merin said. "If people are entrenched in a camp someplace else, they're reluctant to give that up for a few days' stay.

"This strikes at the heart of the event."

Stake Down, which continues through Tuesday, has been billed as an arts and crafts fair as well as a way to raise public awareness about the needs of Sacramento's homeless population of about 1,000.

The event is organized by Safe Ground, a nonprofit whose goal is establishing permanent sites with small cabins and community services for homeless people.

The Stake Down permit allows a maximum of 15 tents and 49 campers on the event site, an empty lot that Merin owns on the edge of the Alkali Flat neighborhood, near Mansion Flats. Camping, even on private property, is illegal for more than one night in Sacramento.

The proximity of neighbors and businesses weighed into the limits the city put on Stake Down camping, said Chance Trimm, assistant city attorney.

"The city considered a variety of factors in awarding the permit," he said. "A lot of things had to be balanced, including public health issues, sanitation and security, and the neighborhood and business reaction is important."

At a recent meeting with neighborhood business owners and residents, he said, "Many were critical that the city was willing to go along with any camping."

Merin, a longtime advocate for Sacramento's homeless population, has appealed the court's decision.

"It's very important that Safe Ground pull this event off and do this right," he said. "There will be a tremendous downside if anything goes awry."

Call The Bee's Anita Creamer, (916) 321-1136.

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