Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is fuming over a video showing two deputies with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office dropping off an unidentified homeless man at a McDonald’s parking lot Wednesday night.
The video, which surfaced Thursday from Public Safety News, prompted swift backlash over concerns of a potential pattern of dumping homeless people in Sacramento.
Bill Snow, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran living on a nearby sidewalk, said he personally knows two people who were escorted in a similar fashion, though he didn’t witness Wednesday’s incident.
“It’s like Grand Central Station,” Snow said of the McDonald’s on Richard Boulevard. “There’s so many homeless here. I haven’t seen Yolo haul people, but I know some people who say they’ve been. It’s the easy thing to do. (Yolo officers) do it so they don’t have to do the paperwork.”
The incident prompted Steinberg to send a harsh letter to Yolo County Sheriff Tom Lopez on Friday. Steinberg, who co-chairs a homelessness task force Gov. Gavin Newsom assembled earlier this year, called Lopez before sending him the letter. In the letter, Steinberg demanded an explanation and called on him to “evaluate this incident in good faith to determine how your office and deputies can better serve a vulnerable transient population.”
“We will not bear the responsibility that other jurisdictions have to take on,” Steinberg told The Sacramento Bee on Saturday. “This is a single incident, and I’m not accusing anybody of anything beyond this specific incident. But I am concerned this is not a single, isolated incident and is more of a widespread practice. My message is if this is happening, we will find out and we will take action.”
Steinberg said possible actions might include suing other jurisdictions who bring homeless people to Sacramento, working with the Legislature to sanction the practice and collaborating with Attorney General Xavier Becerra to crack down on police departments dumping homeless people into other cities. “I hope this incident will now have a high public profile and send the message that if you are doing this, stop it now.”
Lopez’s office has not yet responded to 15 questions Steinberg laid out in his letter, nor did it respond to a request for comment about whether it’s common practice common practice for Yolo officers to drop homeless people off in Sacramento.
In a statement, Lt. Matt Davis of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office said the homeless man in the video “inadvertently made his way into a very rural area of unincorporated Yolo County” and asked to be returned to Sacramento so he could find food. Because the man “was not found to meet the criteria for an involuntary detention due to his mental health challenges,” dumping him and his belongings outside McDonald’s “was determined to be the best solution at the time.” Davis also claimed the homeless man declined to accept money the deputies offered him.
“We understand the appearance this activity had,” Davis added.
Shortly after he was dropped off in front of McDonald’s, the homeless man told Public Safety News he was walking around Clarksburg “to try and find a job picking grapes in the morning.” When asked if he knew why he was dropped off, the man said he thought the deputies were “transformers.”
Steinberg doesn’t believe Yolo’s account of what happened.
“From their own description, I don’t buy it,” Steinberg said. “The first instinct and first action must be to try to help the person where they find the person. (Assuming Sacramento was the best spot to send him), the obligation should have been to work with one of our service providers and help the individual. These are human beings.”
Jeff Harris, a city council member representing the River District – the industrial neighborhood along Interstate 5 north of the downtown railyard where the officers dumped the homeless man – said the incident reflects a growing trend of outside groups bringing homeless people into the area.
“I’ve heard lots of rumors, not only Yolo County but other counties as well, bringing homeless people to the river district in Sacramento because that’s where the preponderance of services are. It’s frustrating,” Harris said. “This is the only video I know of where it was captured.”
Harris cited an example from December 2017 of a senior with arthritis who had been discharged from Woodland Memorial Hospital. Arlan Lewis, who was 78 years old at the time, was given a taxi ride and dropped off in front of Sacramento’s Union Gospel Mission. Three homeless people sitting outside McDonald’s on Saturday morning, including Snow, said they’ve seen or heard about other homeless people being brought to the mission.
Sacramento has a history of having homeless people brought into the city from other areas. In 2013, a Las Vegas psychiatric hospital regularly dropped off homeless patients via Greyhound bus to cities, including Sacramento, where some patients had never been and had no ties.
“We’re sensitive to having people come and bring homeless people into the city from other jurisdictions because, frankly, we can’t bear the entire burden,” Harris said.
Steinberg wants to hear back from Lopez before drawing any widespread conclusions, but he said Davis’ explanation doesn’t add up. He hopes the incident will motivate different groups to address the problem at a regional level.
“Homelessness is never going to get better if we take the easy way out,” Steinberg said. “Dropping people off without first trying to get them help speaks more than any other piece of this.”