Dozens of homeless people camped out on the grounds of the Placer County government complex in north Auburn were forced to leave Thursday as a new ordinance took effect banning unauthorized camping on county-owned land.
Authorities estimated that 50 to 70 people had occupied camps sprawled across the county property. The camps started about a year ago and grew over time.
The Placer County Sheriff’s Office posted signs and issued warnings on Thursday, and will begin citing and arresting remaining campers on Friday. On Tuesday, a cleanup hosted by the sheriff’s office will remove any items left behind and store them for pickup for 90 days.
“Homeless individuals were told and warned plenty of time in advance,” said Placer County spokeswoman DeDe Cordell. “From our perspective, we want everyone from the encampment to be treated with respect and dignity, but make sure they understand what is now the law.”
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The ordinance was passed last month in response to an increasing number of complaints in the past year regarding the lawn encampment from community members and county employees. County officials expressed concerns regarding health and safety for campers and local residents.
Evening and nighttime campfires also posed a hazard because of the lawn’s dry conditions – the result of a county decision to stop watering so as not to disturb the lawn’s occupants.
“The question is where the homeless will go after the ordinance,” said Placer County Supervisor Jim Holmes.
“Property and store owners in the area need to understand their rights,” Holmes said. “This will undoubtedly put a burden on the sheriff’s department to monitor and enforce the ordinance, while keeping former campers off of private property.”
Alex Ramsey, 24, who has lived on the county property since March, said he and several friends plan to relocate to the county’s Bear River Campground in Colfax, where they will pay $10 a night.
Many campers will stay in Auburn and will likely move to nearby fields and private property, said John Duncan, 65, an Auburn resident who helped a small group of campers move their belongings on Thursday.
“People will likely scatter and hide; they’ll go where the police aren’t,” Duncan said. “The county creates the illusion of solving the problem, but ultimately are causing the homeless to become more desperate.”
Local faith groups and homeless advocates assisted in cleaning up and moving campers’ belongings off county property Thursday.
Cordell said the county is encouraging campers to use county and nonprofit resources, including a shelter run by Right Hand Auburn in conjunction with Volunteers of America. The temporary shelter – run out of old county jail barracks – has reached its capacity of 47 individuals every night since opening in early June. Open from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., it is operating on a 90-day trial period set by the county.
Holmes said he expects Right Hand Auburn to ask the county for a time extension and increased occupancy limit at the end its trial period. Holmes said he won’t support this proposal because of the former barracks’ number of fire exits, as well as its proximity to local elementary schools and a shelter for domestic violence victims.
Placer County is focusing its efforts on finding a long-term solution to an increasing number of chronically homeless individuals. A consultant’s study released earlier this year found that while the county has a relatively low rate of homelessness compared with many other locales, its chronically homeless population is almost three times the national average.
Cordell said the county plans to join forces with local nonprofits, religious groups, community members and businesses, working toward creating a 24/7 shelter and extending mental health and drug rehabilitation resources.