Stephanie Duncan, former president of the Land Park Neighborhood Association and community advocate, has noticed a severe increase in transients camps over the last four years along Broadway, the W/X corridor and her neighborhood in the city of Sacramento. She has called 911 for people unresponsive and passed out in front of houses, and for those who look to be in bad shape and staggering down the street while under the influence of drugs. She has also recovered stolen baby strollers and bicycles for area residents at transient camps, pawn shops and online websites such as OfferUp.
“Theft is constant in the area and has increased significantly since the camps started—bicycles, packages, items left in vehicles and even solar yard lights that were taken from my own home,” Duncan said.
A few years ago, she worked with the City of Sacramento’s Justice for Neighbors program to evict two men from an apartment complex who were selling heroin to transients. “It took 10 months of gathering information and the Sacramento Police Department working with the landlord before they were evicted,” Duncan said. “Prior to their eviction, I would see a number of the area panhandlers at their door making exchanges for drugs. Sometimes, I would see a driver at a street corner hand money to a panhandler, who would immediately walk to the apartments to buy drugs. I would also see panhandlers making their signs in front of the dealer’s door as they waited for their next fix. I have tried to tell people not to give money to panhandlers in the area because the money doesn’t go to food, but to drugs.”
Through talking to many of the transients in her area, Duncan has discovered many of them are on social media. and she has contacted some of their family members, primarily to let them know where their loved ones are. “These families are not in Sacramento, but in other California counties and states, which is also where the transients are from. In every instance, a mother or sister would tell me that they knew exactly where their family member was, that they have tried to get them help and to come home, but they refuse because they are choosing drugs over family and shelter.”
“One mother in Virginia, told me that her son had been on the streets for 15 years and he liked his life of no responsibilities,” Duncan explained. “In each case, the family did not know how else to help and were at their wits’ end because they had tried multiple times to get their drug-addicted relative into rehab or housing, but it never worked. One mother still calls me on occasion if she hasn’t heard from her son and asks if I could give him a message that she will be making the two-hour drive to try to find him and so she can spend time with him. I have seen her son for three years, living in a tent at the W/X corridor, shooting up heroin with many other transients.”
According to law enforcement, the W/X corridor is one of the biggest drug-using areas in the city, which Duncan can attest to. “When I drive by these camps, I regularly see people with needles in their arms, feet, or necks or prepping a syringe for their next hit. I see people pulling up in cars and on bikes to deal drugs to the transients, which I document and send to the authorities. People have asked me what keeps people living on the streets in this area and I tell them it’s the drugs. There are no services here, such as food banks; they are here because the drugs are here.”
This area, with enormous amounts of trash, human feces and needles, is one of highest-reported in the city, and falls under CalTrans for clean-up. Duncan says public sidewalks have turned into health hazards with no regular power washing being done. “The transients will load up the items they’ve accumulated, move them across the street, let CalTrans clean up trash, and then move right back in. I have let people on the street know about services available, how they can call 211, and that the Navigator at the Downtown Library is there to help them, but I’m usually brushed off with an ‘I’m fine and don’t need help.’ One transient, who I’ve seen for at least two years using drugs, told me that he even went to the Railroad Shelter provided by the city, but he didn’t like it, so he left.”
In all the years Duncan has been involved in her community, she knows of only one transient who accepted the help offered, which was by a friend of hers. “This man had chosen to get off heroin and started taking Suboxone while homeless because he came to the point where he didn’t want to live a life on the streets anymore. He went through a significant withdrawal process over the course of months but made it through with help from our advocacy group in Land Park. Because of how incredibly difficult it was to navigate the programs and services offered by the city, including the documents that were given which proved useless, we provided him with clothing, food, shelter, transportation to appointments, and connected him to services. He eventually ended up going to the Railroad Shelter, but because of the rampant alcohol and drug use there, asked to be transferred to a VOA shelter where that was not allowed. Within eight long months of accepting help and getting clean, he was given his own apartment and is thriving. He has a social worker, attends appointments and meetings, volunteers at an area church, and is so grateful to have walked away from his transient life of substance abuse.”
Duncan has sent countless emails to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and City Council members, and has also presented at City Hall, regarding all that she has seen. “The Mayor loves to tout a recent statistic from the latest Point in Time Count of how 93 percent of people on the streets in Sacramento are from here. Having read this report, I know that statistic is skewed, because it considers people who have lived in the area for one year or more long-term residents. So, they may have traveled here from anywhere else in the United States, and if they didn’t get help within the first year to get off the street, they are now called a long-term resident, and little is being done to get them back home. This means the homeless problem of other states is being passed on to California, which explains why we have 30% of the nation’s transients, for which we are now bearing the financial responsibility.”
Duncan is seriously concerned about the deadly diseases spreading amongst transients in San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz and said elected officials in Sacramento have a lack of concern based on the little to no effort in clearing and sanitizing camps the past few years. “More recently, The Mayor and City Council claim that the Martin v. Boise 9th Circuit Court decision, which says a person cannot be punished for sleeping on public property if there are no other options available, is preventing them from getting people off the street because there’s currently no city shelters,” she said. “Yet, what was the reason camps weren’t being cleared long before this ruling went into effect in September 2018?”
Duncan added: “This week the Sacramento City Council approved two shelters, one close to my neighborhood, which will be low barrier. The council claims that once these shelters are open, people will no longer be allowed to sleep on the street, but I’m skeptical of their ability to enforce this. Our elected officials believe this is a housing problem and that the majority of the homeless lost their homes due to increased rent. From talking to people in my area, I know that’s not the case. People are refusing services and have chosen drugs over everything else—including their own family—and until people are put into rehab or receive needed mental health care, no amount of housing will help them.”
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