SACRAMENTO, Calif. — While out to enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon, Julia B. was forced to make a U-turn outside of Miller Park's gate. It was locked. A fence, portable toilets and 60 tents are set up and ready to welcome unhoused individuals at the city’s newest, temporary "Safe Ground" site Monday, officials say.
“We need a spot for them. They’re people. They’re humans. They gotta live- but want to live too," said Julia B., who said she would just find another place to cruise with her 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle.
Less than a week after the plans were announced to the public, the temporary solution, which drew heated debate, is charging forward.
Many in the lowrider community wanted to have a last ride at the Marina before the Safe Ground site opened. Some in the community, like "Rudy" and his partner, said they wanted to see how they could help the unhoused.
“We wanted to help or to welcome them to this area or something, so we thought we’d bring the (car) out for a ride," said Rudy, who only provided his first name.
But other parkgoers were extremely disappointed.
“I don’t feel right. This is a public park. This is supposed to be open, you know?" said Mahend Presad.
The marina waterfront park has sentimental value for long-time Sacramentans, like Todd Bullan.
“We used to come dance on the tables in high school... This is actually where I’m going to have my ashes spread," Bullan said.
He said he’s worried about the long-term impact that the short-time site will have.
“Alleviate the tents, alleviate the RVs, and put people in a place where people can get better," he said, calling on action from city leaders.
In January, the city purchased 102 acres in South Sacramento for a car camping site and eventual affordable housing. They also invested $23.9 million for 92 units of supportive housing at the Best Western Sutter Hotel downtown.
In a fiery meeting at McKinley Park on Saturday, Council Member Katie Valenzuela said the Safe Ground option, which is in her district, was the only solution in the meantime.
"We need to find these interim steps, and I know it's not perfect. I'm not gonna be anybody that tells you that this is gonna be a long-term or ideal solution," Valenzuela said. "It’s a crappy solution, but it’s also the only solution that I’ve been able to come up with.”
The Safe Ground program has been effective, according to city officials. They say since it started last summer, the sites have helped transition 200 chronically homeless people into stable housing out of the more than 500 they served. The first and largest pilot site, was in a parking lot along W and X Streets around Highway 50.
But, neighbors and merchants say the spillover effects did more harm than good to the area near South Side Park.
Maxine, who only shared her first name, said she wants to protest the move at Miller Park and Valenzuela.
“I was always for the homeless people but not for losing parks," Maxine said. "They’re blocking me. I don’t want them here. I want them in some other place."
Valenzuela estimates the site will be operating for about six months.
"A lot of those people are very unfortunate to be in the streets," Rudy said. "Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction and helps them, and at least round them up (so) maybe they can study some of their problems."
Neither the city nor the unhoused advocates, who call for more affordable housing and services, believe the Safe Ground site is the end-all or be-all answer to solve the homelessness crisis.
Faye Wilson of the Poor People's campaign said people living outdoors is not a solution, but she adds this is an opportunity for community members to engage and develop solutions.