Editors note: The landowners that are quoted in this story asked to remain anonymous as they were worried for their safety as well as social media that has lashed out at them. The homeless asked to remain anonymous for a variety of reasons.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it, and it’s going to get far more troublesome before it gets better. No one seems to know what to do, and nothing seems to get done.” It’s a sentiment shared by a number of the property owners that are dealing with the homeless encampments surrounding Walmart and Kmart that we interviewed this past week. “The amount of trash, the needles and drugs, not to mention cutting my fence, those cows get out on the road — I’m the one that is held responsible. Plus, I have to check the fields to keep the livestock safe — you wouldn’t believe the stuff I have found. They have 24 hours a day 7 days a week to find ways to mess up my business, to cause trouble. And if you don’t think they know what they are doing, you are wrong. They have systems and know the laws — hell, they probably even know the schedules of when and where law enforcement is likely to be.”
The land owners and residents are angry, scared and depressed over the homeless issue.
“Sure, we’re angry, but we’re human too. These folks have real issues, most of it drugs and mental health issues. I get that some are addicts. Some are crazy. But you offer them places to stay, or food and shelter, programs to get them on their feet and off the street, and they won’t go through with it because they aren’t allowed to do drugs, drink, or just aren’t mentally there enough to take steps to get better. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
It isn’t getting better.
“I’ve seen groups like Foothill Conservancy. They came in and cleaned up this camp area. It was amazing. Two weeks later, homeless folks came back, either the old ones or new ones, and trashed the place to hell.”
The shining gold foothills have lost a bit of their beauty and charm.
“They were washing clothes and using the river as a toilet. I’m very concerned about health and safety problems inside the encampments, including disease, open drug use, violence, crime and fire risks. But you move em’ out a new group comes in, or the old ones just come back. It’s an ongoing rotation with no end in sight. In fact, it has gotten worse and I fear and believe we are just beginning to see what is going to occur.”
As the Ledger Dispatch conducted interviews with the homeless at several of the encampments there were interesting similarities among those that answered questions. Of the ten interviews, nine were from out of town. Seven openly admitted to drug and addiction problems. Half of them have mental health issues, which of course is not scientific, but judging from their reactions, such as talking to themselves, or losing track of conversation, and some wild answers — it certainly suggests that issues, either drug related, mental health, or both, are a huge factor.
“I lost my job and couldn’t afford my medications, so I self-medicate,” said one homeless female. “This is the only option I have found. I protect myself and keep to myself, you should stay out of it.”
When asked about programs and services, all verified that they were aware of programs that were available, but none chose to utilize any of the services.
“We have the right to live the way we want to,” said another homeless individual. “I’m not hurting anyone. We’ll clean it up (the homeless encampment), doesn’t matter when. I am not concerned. Doesn’t matter. We can stay here, we are on county property. That field across the fence is private property, and over there, but we have the right to be here.”
“People need to open up their eyes and realize they could end up like this,” said another homeless individual. “A lot of people are one paycheck away. Show some humanity.”
Amador is not alone in the homeless crisis. In the state of California, Project Roomkey had the goal of providing transitional housing across the state. The initiative sheltered and assisted more than 42,000 in-house people in motel rooms and trailers during the pandemic. But the project is now winding down. Latest statistics show that just 20% of those who exited — or 6,700 people statewide — had obtained permanent housing, according to figures by the California Department of Social Services.
In El Dorado, the Placerville City Council held a special meeting on Tuesday, June 29 to discuss the ramifications of homeless camps throughout the county and consider options to alleviate the homelessness crisis in the city of Placerville, requesting that El Dorado County leaders use American Rescue Plan Act funds to construct managed camps or emergency shelters in three supervisorial districts.
The Placer County Board of Supervisors has hired an expert firm in the field of homelessness and cross-sector planning to assist with developing best practices for working with the homeless population in the county. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday, July 6 to authorize spending $195,000 to hire Moore Iacofano Goltsman to provide facilitation, planning and technical assistance to a regional work group composed of interjurisdictional elected and appointed officials.
In Tuolumne County, more than 50 people, including property owners and residents who are opposed to a plan to locate a proposed Resiliency Village for homeless individuals on Jenny Lind Road in the rural community of Big Hill, attended a meeting on Wednesday, July 7 at the Elks Lodge 1587 in Sonora. During the first hour, numerous attendees made it clear from their questions and statements that many property owners and residents feel blindsided by the recent announcement that Resiliency Village has closed escrow on a property at 13707 Jenny Lind Road; that they support services for the homeless in Tuolumne County, but they oppose having any facility for the homeless in their vicinity; and that they are organizing their opposition to the project.
In Sacramento a new resolution passed on Tuesday, July 20 prohibiting homeless emcampments from being within 25 feet from more than one hundred sites across the city including bridges, levees, rivers, utilities, hospitals and essential city buildings. A homeless encampment was blamed for flames that erupted from a broken gas line under a Sacramento bridge back in May. It’s just one example of how the City of Sacramento says its homeless are impacting critical infrastructure.
In Amador, Gary Redman, Amador County Sheriff, has created the Homeless Amador React Team (H.A.R.T)
“As Sheriff of Amador County, my top priority is to address the homeless crisis occurring in Amador County,” said Sheriff Redman. “My other priorities continue to be domestic violence, property crimes, and narcotics.”
As Undersheriff, Redman worked with the Amador County Board of Supervisors, mostly Frank Axe on coming up with solutions.
“I spent a day with the El Dorado Sheriff’s Office homeless task force to get a better understanding of what actually works,” said Sheriff Redman. “I quickly recognized this issue is not just a law enforcement issue, but encompasses many organizations such as Amador County Mental Health, drug and alcohol addiction services, Operation Care, Amador County Probation, Amador Tuolumne County Action Agency for housing, Jackson Police Outreach and others.”
“Due to a staffing shortage, former Sheriff Martin Ryan and I were unable to form a team to work collaboratively with the agencies,” said Sheriff Redman. “When I took over as Sheriff, I immediately formed the H.A.R.T. team with the help of Sergeant Jeff Belotti who currently is the team leader. The team consists of a sergeant, four deputies, probation officers, CalFire Law Enforcement and Jackson Police.”
This is a collateral duty assignment for all the members of H.A.R.T.
“The team’s first goal is to clean up the homeless encampments near Walmart and Kmart and the surrounding area,” said Sheriff Redman. “The team will attempt to offer services in an effort to get the homeless sober and into transitional housing. The team has already successfully reunited a homeless individual with her family outside of Amador County. I have also been working with the county on a plan to give them the authority to legally remove people and trash from county property. This will be the H.A.R.T team’s first priority. The team will continue to work with our partners on outreach in the county and the City of Jackson.”
The Amador County Board of Supervisors will have the homeless issue on the Tuesday, July 27 agenda for discussion and possible action in open session at their 9 a.m. meeting at the Amador County Administration Center, 810 Court Street in Jackson.