The blocks around Broadway and the elevated freeway south of downtown Sacramento have increasingly become the refuge of homeless campers. And that’s led some residents of the nearby Land Park neighborhood to organize – armed with their cellphone cameras and a direct line to City Hall.
More than 550 residents have joined a private Facebook group called Land Park Society since the page launched earlier this month. Members post daily photos of trash piles and homeless camps along the Broadway corridor, sometimes tagging city officials. Those who document what they see are urged to call the city’s 311 nonemergency line or contact business owners so the issues are addressed.
“I do not expect the city and law enforcement to have eyes everywhere,” said Ramona Russell, a Land Park resident who founded the group. “That’s impossible. Residents also have a job to do. But at the same time, it’s not up to us to come up with solutions and take care of this ourselves. We should be angry that we’re being failed by the people whose jobs we pay for with our tax dollars.”
Russell said their campaign is working. Some of the dirtiest blocks under the W/X freeway have been cleaned in response to the group’s complaints, and a gas station on Broadway has restricted access to a bathroom that had attracted homeless men and women. Business owners have told Russell they feel safer in the area, she said.
Laurie Foor, who works in a salon one block from the W/X freeway, said she has noticed “a drastic difference” since the group formed.
“There aren’t as many camps or garbage and I don’t see people yelling in the street or sitting on our doorstep,” she said. “It just seems cleaner.”
Still, more than a dozen homeless individuals camped on sidewalks in the area Tuesday, both under the freeway and on side streets. Some have criticized Land Park Society’s tactics, arguing they are simply shaming the homeless while providing no solutions to a growing social problem.
Xavier Cabano, 28, and four friends were camped out on 14th Street on Tuesday, eating snacks and guarding a large cart the group uses to store their clothes. Cabano has lived on the streets in the area for three years and said the police have told his group to move more frequently in the past few weeks. When told to move, the group simply relocates a block or two.
“They push us out, they push us out, they push us out, but to what?” Cabano said. “Provide us a place (a shelter) that doesn’t stink like alcohol and (urine), and we’d go there.”
Russell said she’s lived in Land Park for 16 years and the homeless population “is the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
Members of her group have posted photographs of men asking for money outside Target, a van being used for shelter, and several pictures of shopping carts overflowing with clothes and sleeping bags. Others have posted photographs or complaints of men and women using drugs in business parking lots. The most active group members have urged friends to dine out and spend money on Broadway, expressing sympathy for businesses in the neighborhood.
Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the area, said the city is “working hard to improve the situation.”
“It’s great to see citizen activism, but we need to channel it into productive problem-solving,” he said.
Hannah Williams, a local homeless rights and free speech activist, doesn’t think what Land Park Society is doing qualifies as activism. Instead, she calls members of the group “bourgeois snitches.”
“They are from an affluent neighborhood and they can call it what they want, but the truth of the matter is they are displacing poor people,” she said. “The purpose of this group is to move human beings and get them out of their sight.”
Williams agrees with Russell that “it’s important to hold our elected officials accountable.” But she said Land Park Society is “haphazardly villainizing vulnerable people” while failing to offer services or solutions for the homeless crisis.
Russell said members of the Facebook group have been defamed and ridiculed by activists. She said she and others want to help offer solutions and are looking for a service provider they can call to report issues they come across.
She called opponents of their work “young kids who are not completely aware of the situation.”
“Me and my group do not believe that stepping over a homeless person on our way to get a cup of coffee is helping them,” Russell said. “We believe that reporting them to an agency so services and (a police) impact team can be sent out is the best way to help them. They’re vulnerable. Being on the street makes them even more vulnerable.”