Homeless campers were absent from the landings of downtown Sacramento’s Gordon Schaber Courthouse for the first time in months early Tuesday, but the rousting of 36 people by California Highway Patrol officers late Monday is only part of a remedy still being worked out to clear campers from the courthouse grounds, a Sacramento Superior Court spokeswoman said.
The CHP’s operation late Monday provided a possible clue to future actions, but Kim Pederson said it was unclear whether patrol officers will make a return visit.
“We had to reach some sort of temporary solutions,” said Pederson of the patrol’s action, even as advocates for the homeless cried foul.
Bob Erlenbusch, a national advocate for the homeless based in Sacramento, criticized the move, saying court officials “didn’t want a proactive solution. They wanted a reactive solution.”
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Erlenbusch, president of the National Coalition for the Homeless, spoke Tuesday from Washington, D.C., where he is attending the national Housing Not Handcuffs conference discussing legal and political strategies to “end the criminalization of homeless people.”
“So, we move people away from the courthouse, where many felt it was safe and we’re moving them into more dangerous conditions out in the community,” Erlenbusch said. “We push people off the American River, away from (Sacramento) City Hall and now we’re playing pingpong with them at the courthouse. We continue to tell homeless people, ‘You can’t be anywhere.’ The ‘unwelcome’ mat is out all over the city.”
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department typically oversees protection of the building during operating hours, said Officer George Granada, a CHP spokesman. Afterward, the CHP’s Capitol Grounds unit takes the lead in responding for calls to the courthouse, one of the roughly 100 state-owned buildings in their jurisdiction, Granada said.
Mark Merin, a local attorney and member of the homeless advocacy group Safe Ground Sacramento, said Monday’s incident was emblematic of the increasing number of homeless people living in Sacramento. He said city and county leaders have done little to provide help for the homeless or alternatives to living on the street.
The city of Sacramento in recent months has been considering alternatives. Mayor Darrell Steinberg is advocating a plan that would allow churches and community centers to take in small numbers of homeless people if they wanted to. Councilman Allen Warren wants a tent city in his North Sacramento district that will house 200 homeless people, include portable showers and restrooms, and offer mental health and addiction counseling services.
For months, dozens of campers have called the courthouse property, raised high off city sidewalks at 720 Ninth St., an overnight way station, to the chagrin of court leaders and others left to contend with the trash and human waste left behind.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard, who leads the court’s security committee, had gone as far as to the label the landings turned camps a “biohazard,” citing the amount of urine and fecal matter pressure washed each morning by maintenance crews.
Meanwhile, Sacramento County sheriff’s court security reported finding intravenous needles on their morning rounds. Cleaning crews have said they have been accosted by campers when they started their work.
In recent weeks, sheriff’s deputies have stepped up afternoon patrols and taken to gathering in large clusters at the courthouse’s west entrance and outside its doors at the end of the workday – a show of force to reassure court staff and customers and likely to send a message to would-be campers.
Pederson said the result has been fewer campers, less waste and a “happier clientele.”
Still, word from courthouse officials on other solutions – near or long-term – remained elusive Tuesday even after weeks of talks between court leaders and an assortment of other city, county and state players, including the Judicial Council of California, which oversees county courthouses, homeless services provider Sacramento Steps Forward and the CHP.
“We’re within a few weeks of making an announcement on a long-term plan. All of the interested parties are interested in finding a satisfying solution,” Pederson said.
A temporary fence or other barrier to discourage camping is still an option, Pederson said, but the amount of resources to be committed to the problem and who exactly will address it remain sticking points.
“Resources and jurisdictional (issues) are two angles we’re navigating through,” Pederson said. “We think we got over some hurdles that will work for all the interested parties.”