Homeless tent city pushed by Sacramento councilman despite mayor’s concerns

Councilman Allen Warren is asking the city Tuesday to consider suspending or modifying its ban on urban camping to allow for homeless encampments near his North Sacramento district.

“This is going to be one of the wettest winters in the last 30 or 40 years,” Warren said. “A lot of the places the homeless have been living in have flooded. I’m going to ask that we take them and allow ... camping so we don’t continue to allow these people to live in dangerous conditions.”

Warren said he has two sites in mind that could be used for homeless encampments. One is a 4-acre vacant parcel of land that he owns in the Del Paso Heights area. Warren said he would allow the city to use it without charge for an outdoor camping facility. He said that he also has spoken to the owners of a nearby warehouse who would be willing to rent the facility to provide indoor shelter.

Warren said that he will ask the city manager and city attorney to “explore” lifting the city ordinance at one or both sites. Warren said he supports Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s push for permanent housing, but also wants immediate housing to be a priority.

Steinberg said he would work with Warren and believes the councilman has a valid concern: “We don’t have nearly enough resources on the emergency side.”

But Steinberg said tent cities are not a long-term solution to the city’s homeless crisis.

“My strong preference is that we work together to find indoor emergency shelter,” Steinberg said. “But I am open to working with any one of my colleagues who wants to do anything to improve the situation in his district.”

Steinberg recently partnered with the county to open a homeless warming center in Southside Park, and on Monday announced that facility would also be open during the upcoming heavy rains. Although it is not designed for sleep, homeless people have used pool lounge chairs as beds there.

The mayor said he is concerned that an authorized tent city in one Sacramento neighborhood will renew the issue citywide.

“I think if this becomes the focal point of the debate, we run the risk of losing our focus and our ability to deliver thousands of desperately needed permanent housing units and the services to go with them,” he said.

The ban on camping and tent cities for homeless are long-running and contentious issues in Sacramento. While advocates have described the facilities as temporary springboards for homeless people, local service providers and elected officials argue the tent city political debate distracts from efforts to secure stable housing for the homeless.

A contingent of city leaders traveled to Seattle last year to tour that city’s network of permitted homeless tent cities. Most of the council members who took that trip said at the time they would consider allowing a similar model here. However, that support has waned in recent months.

Councilman Eric Guerra, who was part of the group that visited Seattle, had said he was willing to consider supporting a homeless encampment here. But last week Guerra said he thinks he doesn’t “see (the tent city model) as a productive approach.”

Civil rights attorney Mark Merin applied to establish a homeless tent city near the Sacramento Army Depot in October. Former City Manager John Shirey denied the request. Merin said advocates of a tent city have other sites in mind, but settled on the Army Depot site because it is far from homes and close to job training facilities.

Heavy rains were expected in the Sacramento area Tuesday night before turning to showers on Wednesday. The American and Sacramento rivers have risen dramatically in recent days, and are expected to remain at high levels. As a result, homeless campers who normally live in the wooded areas along the rivers have set up camp on levees and streets.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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