Jeff Dionne has broken the law. He’s upfront about that. But he wasn’t doing it Wednesday.
Nope, Dionne was just enjoying the shade in Land Park, where he’s spent just about every sunlit hour of every day for the past six weeks. On this day – like most – he was tinkering with his bicycle. At one point he paused to go through the stash of chips, tuna salad and Hawaiian Punch he’d purchased at a nearby Dollar Tree.
“I’m just trying to keep everything working,” he said.
Dionne said he grew up in South Land Park and went to McClatchy High School. Then he got into drugs, did 18 months in prison and lost his home.
It’s not an unusual story in Sacramento County, where an estimated 1,000 people are on the streets every night. Except for one detail: Dionne is part of a small group of homeless men and women who are spending every day in Land Park, the city’s most beloved park – and one that sits in one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods.
The group’s presence there – near the cement stage and bathroom along Freeport Boulevard – has alarmed a lot of neighbors. They’ve flooded the pages of the website Nextdoor and are pounding on elected officials to do something.
Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents Land Park at City Hall, is getting a lot of the calls. He’s asked the city to fund more rangers to patrol the parks, but that request probably won’t be filled for months. Hansen said there are two rangers patrolling city parks at any given time. One of their tasks is making sure Dionne and other homeless men and women don’t sleep in parks.
“We’re somewhat handcuffed to prevent negative behavior, especially when our park rangers are spread so thin,” Hansen said.
Dionne said he had spent the last few years camping along the Sacramento River, near Miller Park. But as local police increased their enforcement in the area – just as they’ve done along the American River Parkway lately – Dionne finally packed up and moved to Land Park. He sleeps at night behind a nearby church, but is back in the park soon after the sun rises.
I’m accustomed to this area; this is where I grew up. This is my home.span
Jeff Dionne, a homeless man who spends his days in Land Park
Most of the evidence is anecdotal, but it appears more homeless men and women are showing up in parts of the region where they hadn’t been before.
Sacramento Steps Forward, the region’s lead homeless service provider, has received reports of homeless people appearing in Carmichael, Orangevale and North Natomas. There was even a report of homeless people showing up in Valley View Acres, a secluded enclave of farms and ranches at the city’s northern edge.
“We are probably seeing more people in the neighborhoods because there is activity – flood control, fire prevention – on the rivers,” said Maya Wallace, a director of external affairs for Steps Forward. “So it’s not a matter of ‘Are there just more?’ as it is ‘Where are they living?’”
Ultimately, it’s up to Sacramento Steps Forward to address this. And it’s trying. Since July, Wallace said, it has placed 61 homeless people in permanent housing facilities linked to services.
Dionne, like a lot of people in his situation, said he’d prefer to have a job and live in a home. But for now he seems pretty comfortable spending his days in Land Park.
“I’m accustomed to this area; this is where I grew up,” he said. “This is my home.”