Winter Shelter Closes for Summer; What's Next for Homeless?

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Remember Sacramento’s Tent City along the American River?  When city officials closed it down in mid-April, they offered a mix of temporary and permanent housing solutions.  The largest temporary solution was expanding the Winter Shelter at Cal Expo.  But today, the shelter closed for the summer … leaving 200 people without a place to sleep – and wondering where they’ll go next.
Richard Aldrette is one of about 30 Tent City campers who moved to the Winter Shelter.  But now, he’s got nowhere to go – and he’s upset with city and county officials, who he says promised to find him permanent housing. 
Aldrette: “They did what they wanna do on TV.  It’s like, they got everybody out.  Time has gone by, so okay, you’re on your own – again.  And now, there’s no place they can go.  They can’t go back to Tent City cause that’s fenced off.  Can’t go out to the streets because the police will harass you.”
So instead of sleeping on the streets, Aldrette took to the streets with a couple hundred others – both the homeless and their advocates.
A couple hundred people marched through Sacramento yesterday to a piece of city-owned property next to a police station.  They’re asking for a safe ground – a place where the homeless can set up tents and camp for the night on a piece of public property, without the risk of being arrested.  Some wore shirts that said, “Where am I supposed to live?” 
Ford: “I’m Alton Ford and I’m currently living at Salvation Army on North B Street.”
Ford’s says he’s been homeless – on and off – for the last 10 years. 
Ford: “I know times are rough with the economy and all, but you gotta start somewhere.  And this idea is a good start.  Might not be the perfect answer but you gotta start somewhere.” 
But there’s a debate within City Hall over whether a “safe ground” makes sense.  Mayor Kevin Johnson supports it, if it’s safe and appropriately located; City Manager Ray Kerridge does not.  And that’s just a short-term solution.  More long-term is the idea of permanent housing.  That’s something Tim Brown is working on.  He heads the city and county’s effort to end chronic homelessness.  Brown says he’s placed 35 former Tent City residents in leased apartments since April; he hopes to double that in the next month or two. 
Brown: “It just takes a while to lease housing and get it ready.  And you have to have services attached to housing, and in this budget crunch, it’s been really hard to piece together the service piece, but we’ve managed to do that.” 
But Brown admits most of the 200 people who stayed at the Winter Shelter are now without a roof or a legal campsite.