SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — Several ordinances aimed at restricting where unhoused people in the city and county of Sacramento can camp were passed local leaders.
City leaders voted and approved an ordinance that would allow the removal of tents that blocked sidewalk access and business entrances.
“It's laying a clear protocol about making sure sidewalks are usable but also folks that are on those sidewalks have a way to store their stuff and might have an alternative place to go,” said Councilmember Katie Valenzuela.
Councilmembers added a resolution that those cited under the ordinance will not be jailed or fined to the fullest extent possible.
Sacramento County supervisors meanwhile passed their own pair of homeless measures. They banned camping along the American River Parkway due to safety concerns, like wildfires, and it also extends to places like schools, libraries and government buildings. Supervisors say they're hopeful the community will be connected to resources.
The now-approved county ordinances were up for adoption after being advanced earlier this month. They restrict where camping is allowed, 25 feet away from places deemed critical infrastructure, like levees and government buildings, and near places vulnerable to fires and floods, like the parkway.
“The parkway has experienced a lot of changes over the last couple of years,” Janna Haynes, Sacramento County spokesperson, said prior to the vote. “Not only the increase in campers but the increase in violence, the increase in fires that are both damaging to the parkway and dangerous to those living on the parkway, people who have homes along the parkway as well as the animal life on the parkway. The parkway is something in Sacramento County that we’re really proud of and that we want to preserve for recreation.”
The board’s approval means park rangers and police are allowed to move camps and the people who live in them. It even allows them to issue misdemeanors for those who fail to comply, something the county says is a last resort scenario.
“If we do have an option for them as far as shelter is concerned and they refuse, this gives us another tool to relocate them to another area,” Haynes said prior to the vote. “We’re still committed to being able to find people solutions, give them services, and address their mental health issues and substance abuse issues.”
In a statement, the American Parkway Foundation applauded the new restrictions, but also called for more to be done to help the unhoused.
"While we applaud the passage of the ordinance toughening restrictions on illegal camping on the American River Parkway, we urge Sacramento County leaders to continue to make the development of shelter and wrap-around services for the unhoused a priority. Enforcement, while important, doesn’t address the root cause and won’t be effective without these other two key elements,” the American River Parkway Foundation said.
Opponents said the move does little to solve homelessness and could potentially displace the 2,000 people who call the parkway home.
“The people who have been around the parkway have been there for a long time. It’s the only home they know,” said Joseph Smith, advocacy director for Loaves and Fishes. “They made it as safe and as livable as possible, and if they’re uprooted without anywhere specifically to go, they’re coming into the neighborhoods, they’re coming into the streets.”
In 2005, Smith found himself homeless and with no place to go but the American River Parkway. He lived outside in a tent for nearly six years before turning his life around and accepting the help he needed. He now serves as the advocacy director for Loaves and Fishes, where he helps other people experiencing homelessness improve their lives.
“I’m 11 years sober now. Everything fell into place really fast once I was willing and the services were available to me,” Smith said.
However, Smith says right now, fewer services are out there for those experiencing homelessness, and as a result, the crisis has only gotten worse.
Since 2019, homelessness in Sacramento County has nearly doubled, with the latest point-in-time count showing nearly 9,300 people living on the street.
The county's ban on camping in the parkway and other spaces goes into effect in 30 days. In terms of enforcement, both the city and the county say their strategy will encourage voluntary compliance and relationship building between law enforcement and the homeless community.