The Homeless

Homeless can only sleep outside Sacramento City Hall at night, council rules

Gerald Reid and Yvonne Barbeau, who have been sleeping outside City Hall since the fall, sit outside the building on Feb. 26, 2019.
Gerald Reid and Yvonne Barbeau, who have been sleeping outside City Hall since the fall, sit outside the building on Feb. 26, 2019.

Homeless people will soon be able to sit or sleep on the ground outside Sacramento City Hall overnight but not during the day.

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously and without discussion to amend a city ordinance that prohibited people from being on City Hall property from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. unless attending a city hearing or meeting.

The ordinance will now prohibit people from sitting or lying down on the ground between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. People can still sit or lie on benches and chairs outside City Hall during those hours.

Assistant City Manager Christopher Conlin said the new language will let people seek shelter overnight while still allowing city employees to access the building during work hours.

The change will go into effect in 30 days, city spokesman Tim Swanson said.

The ordinance has been controversial ever since police told homeless people to move from City Hall’s overhangs during a severe rainstorm in mid-January – an incident for which Mayor Darrell Steinberg publicly apologized during a Jan. 22 council meeting.

The next two nights, officers continued to tell people to move, then stopped enforcing the ordinance Jan. 25.

The Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness sent a letter to council members last week urging them to reject the ordinance change and instead let people sleep outside City Hall at all times of the day.

“It is immoral to not allow homeless people to camp where it is safe and out of the rain and wind just because some city employees might feel uncomfortable walking past people experiencing homelessness on their way to work,” the letter said.

James “Faygo” Clark, a homeless activist, agreed with the letter.

“This is one of the few places that has access to a bathroom, has access to the same elected officials that are supposed to be ensuring their safety ... and is one of the safest places for a lot of these people to be,” Clark told the council.

Theresa Clift

On Tuesday, during heavy rain and wind, more than 20 tents were set up around the perimeter of City Hall as the council voted.

Kimberly Higdon, 44, has been sleeping outside City Hall in a tent for about a month, she said.

“It’s lit. There’s an awning. It’s safer than other places,” Higdon said.

Now that she will have to leave every morning, she will probably have to get rid of her tent because she probably can’t carry it around all day, she said. She is unsure where she will go.

“I won’t go to the river because it’s too dangerous,” Higdon said. “I’ve spent a few nights out there, but I didn’t get any sleep.”

Gerald Reid, who has been sleeping outside City Hall since October with his girlfriend, also said he is not sure where the couple will go during the day.

Anthony Abernathy, who has slept outside City Hall some nights, said he supported the change in the ordinance. He said people are more likely to join cleanup crews if they are not allowed to stay outside City Hall during the day.

“I feel it might be a good thing so people can be more productive,” Abernathy said.

Steinberg in early December asked all eight council members to find sites for shelters in each of their districts. So far two have announced potential sites.

People are still allowed to sit or lie on the benches and chairs supplied by the city, according to a city staff report. The benches and chairs are planted outside the overhangs. People who are part of an authorized City Hall plaza event will also be allowed.

This story was updated at 3:12 p.m. on Feb. 28 to clarify that the city’s rules affect people on the ground outside City Hall.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.