In the most significant sign yet that a sanctioned homeless camp could be in Sacramento’s future, attorney Mark Merin and advocacy group Safe Ground Sacramento sent a letter to City Manager John Shirey this week asking for a permit to create a tent city.
Merin proposes designating a site for the tent city in Councilman Jay Schenirer’s district, according to the letter obtained Friday by The Sacramento Bee. That district covers Oak Park, Curtis Park, Hollywood Park, much of South Land Park and neighborhoods near Sacramento Executive Airport.
Merin, who is on the board of directors for Safe Ground Sacramento – a group advocating for a tent city – said the organization “would like to begin screening potential residents of the first community as soon as possible, even before a particular site has been selected.” He wrote that the group hopes to establish the community by April and that a tent community could be operational 10 days after a permit is granted.
Schenirer, who is chairing a City Council subcommittee appointed by Mayor Kevin Johnson to explore ways for the city to address its homeless population, said “it would be premature to discuss any permits or sites prior to a City Council discussion on policy.”
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“The subcommittee will be meeting over the next month to 45 days, and we’ll develop a set of recommendations for council discussion on a number of issues concerning homelessness, one of which will be a potential policy on a safe ground-type of encampment,” he said.
Shirey added he is “not likely to take anything to council before mid- to late-April (on a safe ground), and it will all be part of a set of suggestions made by the City Council working group.”
The letter asks Shirey to “negotiate conditions for the permit to include adequate provision for waste and trash disposal, supply of fresh water, fencing/screening, security and provision of supportive services.” Merin said his group will discuss concerns that they “expect will be expressed” by neighborhood groups with residents – but not until a site has been selected. He said Safe Ground recognizes “there will be a lot of scrutiny given to this first community.”
Merin did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Merin and Schenirer were part of a Sacramento contingent that visited Seattle last week to tour that city’s growing network of permitted homeless encampments. The facilities in Seattle give residents on-site access to social services and low-income housing providers and are designed to serve as temporary, transitional housing until residents can find permanent housing. It’s unclear whether that model is working yet.
A January 2015 census counted 2,659 homeless people living in shelters and outside in Sacramento.