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A Drug Epidemic Disguised as a Housing Crisis

Advocates Know They are Being Lied to by Politicians and the Media

By Ramona Russell, September 3, 2019 7:09 am

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.”

Homeless in Sacramento

“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.”

Ramona Russell

Ramona Russell is a writer, advocate and public relations and social media strategist, and the creator of Save Sac, an advocacy group whose focus is the public health and safety for the city of Sacramento, California.
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26 thoughts on “A Drug Epidemic Disguised as a Housing Crisis

  1. The drug/homeless problem was caused by the democrat state law makers with the passage of Prop 47, 57 and AB109. Stephanie Duncan and her neighbors need to stop voting the same people in office that created this mess in the first place. Otherwise, they need to be more inclusive of their new neighbors.

    1. I, along with Stephanie, know a lot of Prop. 47, 57 and AB109, and believe it’s the biggest cause of our drug epidemic which has caused a homeless one.

    2. Interesting. So, you are saying these people are folks who should be in jail but are not due to these measures. That may be the case, but Democratic lawmakers did not pass the propositions 47 and 57. The people did directly.

    3. I believe homelessness in Sacramento is due to addiction, mental illness and alot of other different circumstances, its is true alot of them do not want help. But we must help those that do want change in there situation of living on the streets were it is dangerous to the population of homeless veterans and citizens that have had there rents raised or have severe addiction problems or mental health.problems…We cant just say it is drug use issue for the entire homeless population. Although there is a drug epidemic and a big percentage of the population. it is not the whole population of homeless folks.

  2. Great article…
    Many of our government “leaders” are leading Californians into a deep hole. There is a way out. Vote out the Democrates and replace them with real Republicans (not R.I.N.O.s). The truth is simple but it is not being done.
    The change will be, in time, a prosperious CA. Without this change, you who live in CA (myself also) will live in poverty and crime.
    But we can if we demand a change to the Democratic leadership to more Godly ones. We need to vote out all the rats who are bleeding our state dry and creating laws (such as Prop. 47, 57 and AB109,) which benefit evil.

    1. Foul Pastor Mike. As a Pastor, how can you put God and politics in the same sentence. You should be praying for our leaders that they make the right decisions and can pull the City out of this epidemic. My Pastor does.

      1. According to Romans 13 it is God who came up with the idea and institution of government. People who serve in government or politics are called “ministers of God.” (Romans 13:1, 4)
        Proverbs 29:12 says, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.” So, since this verse is true, then what makes “politics” good or evil is determined by the caliber of people who get involved in it. If the righteous are involved the citizens will rejoice, if the wicked are more involved the citizens will mourn.
        Edmund Burke said, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” If you as a Christian or a citizen of traditional moral values sit back and do nothing, you will ensure that the things you dislike most about government will continue to happen.
        When we stand up and suffer the consequences for doing what is right, it encourages others to also stand up.

  3. Sanctuary cities should be drug free zones, but evidently they have created the market for them as well as the adverse societal effects communities suffer. The propositions have enabled these residential defecation zones, but weren’t these miscreant enclaves initiated by the Occupy (Wall Street) movement?

  4. Finally, some truth. And what about that dumb rallying cry, “They are your neighbors”? Yeah, neighbors who require thousands of police calls. Beware the Poverty Pimps–they would have to get real jobs if this problem were really solved.

  5. This subject is such a red flag for me. This is the best and most realistic article on the homeless I’ve ever read. My personal observations have led me to the conclusion that homeless people are just not interested in the paperwork of life. I’m not talking about the people who are recently homeless, those who use the many services available to get back on their feet (i.e. Government, church, friend or family.). I’m talking about the homeless who refuse help because being culpable is too restrictive, the homeless to whom working in a job is too restrictive, and the homeless who refuse anything but cash handouts because institutionalized help expects them to integrate back into a life where they have to be responsible for their actions. These are the homeless who have burned all their bridges with friends and family.
    But there is yet another group of homeless that prey on the old, weak, and infirm. They wiggle into a home only needing to stay a few days and then never leaving. They need their own name. Survival Shysters maybe.
    My personal experience: Long story short my husband and I live in San Jose, California and bought a house in 2009 located in Salinas, California so my then homeless mother had a place to live. The house has 5 rooms that we left open for any other family members down on their luck. Six family members have lived there on and off but a couple of years ago I had to evict three homeless people out of that house. No one has ever paid rent to live there but California law says if you live in a house (or on a property) for 30 days you are a tenant. My brother brought in some drug buddies to live in the house and garage. None of my relatives living in the house or in the area bothered to inform me of the new tenants. We finally figured it out because the utility bills doubled. My mom didn’t think I would have to evict them, that they would go if you ask because they had become her friends. Not only was that proven to be not true, my mom had screaming matches with them when the evictions showed their true personalities, that they were never her friends. It cost my husband and I over ten thousand dollars to get them out. The last one we paid directly $3,000 cash to leave and she still tried to sneak back in. She even tried to take over my mother’s room the day after she died. This has forced me to go down and live in the house a few days every week.
    I should have evicted my brother too but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It would make him homeless.

    1. Polly, is the article trash or was it trash? Is she speaking about the whole homeless population or “for” the homeless population. Please attend at least the eighth grade prior to writing publicly.

  6. My concern with the article is that it’s a one-source article. I saw no response or attempt at obtaining a response from a Sacramento city official, homeless advocates, other residents affected by homelessness, or the homeless people themselves. I also would like to have seen more context, such as, are other cities having the same issue regarding drug-using transients? How many people are homeless because of drug use and how many are homeless because of low-paying jobs, loss of employment, or other reasons? I know that this website is providing an alternative to mainstream publications like the Sacramento Bee, but let’s see this story fleshed out with perspective.

    1. A survey conducted by the United States Conference of Mayors asked 25 cities to share the top reasons for homelessness in their region. 68% reported that substance abuse was the number one reason among single adults. According to a separate research survey, two-thirds of the homeless who were interviewed reported that abuse of drugs and/or alcohol was a major cause of their homelessness.
      – United States Interagency Council on Homelessness

  7. You are right about Prop 47 and 57, but the far left legislators and particularly in this case Attorney General Becerra, continue to deceive voters, because of the language by the attorney generals office on ballot measure. Remember the gas tax, nowhere in the title and summary did it mention “tax”. Few realized that in Prop 57, actions such as rape of an unconscious person, would be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, not to mention a number of other crimes. If someone steals or shop lifts items under $950, it is a misdemeanor. In fact they can shoplift that amount or under, and then return the next day and shoplift again, $950 or under. Typically nothing happens.

    Basically, whether you call them Progressives, Democrats, Democrat Socialists, they have done a great job of selling voters swamp,land.

    1. Terry L Gherardi, here is a link to an article that explains what is inaccurate about the mistaken belief that Prop 57 changed rape classifications. Short version: It didn’t. You are correct that rape of an unconscious person is not legally considered a “violent rape” per our penal code established in the 1970s. I share your outrage about that. It should be changed. It’s what allowed that Brock Turner guy to get such a light sentence when he raped an unconscious woman. Here’s the link (it’s well-sourced): https://splinternews.com/did-california-just-reclassify-rape-as-a-non-violent-cr-1793863658

  8. Great article. I just think that all the partisan comments suck. Let’s fix the problem, not the blame. I agree it is a drug problem! Let’s also quit enabling and providing money to panhandlers exasperating the situation!

  9. Spot on article. Finally someone willing to say the Emporer has no clothes! I worked among the homeless for over 4 years feeding them and teaching support classes for Recovery and Life Skills. I only saw one out of the hundreds turn away from the drug culture lifestyle. They also were NOT from that city! They were bussed over and several cities around mine in the East Bay just kept clearing thier drug camps. Our city kept allowing the pan handling at the busy sections and all of a sudden our homeless doubled! I literally watched the pan handlers walk to thier cars when thier shift had ended. Yes, I said shift. There is a pecking order and I guarantee you that isn’t something you want to see them work out. Threats, violence, rapes, drug exchange. Finally my city put up no panhandling signs and started to enforce it chasing the panhandlers out and they moved on to another city. The drugs are thier existence. It’s really tragic. I try to educate people about what I experienced. Most people have no idea and thank me. Others who criticize my experience usually have never even served in a soup kitchen.

    1. When our city council passed an ordinance to prevent panhandling on street medians and near ATMs, to name some, I understood it was ruled unconstitutional. Even council member Hansen’s home was picketed by those against the ordinance. Can you clarify if was adjudicated as unconstitutional, or was it city legal staff that feared they could not defend it in court?

  10. In 2017 the city If Sacramento passed an ordinance against aggressive panhandling near certain areas, but they were sued by a homeless man and the ACLU claiming panhandling is free speech. This year, the city got rid of the ordinance.

    Unfortunately, we see the same panhandlers, year after year, using their money for drugs, which keeps drug dealers and suppliers in the area (we just had two major residential drug house busts within three miles of each other and major transient camps).

    We also have had several incidents of aggressive panhandlers, who when the are refused, become violent by throwing things at people and their cars (food, large rocks, etc.).

  11. This neighborhood bizybody is totally full of shit. Way too many absolutes in her “investigations”. And this well-to-do just walks into homeless camps and statrts interviewing people? Give me a break. She doesn’t care about anyone’s welfare, she just hates look at poor people as she drives by in her BMW suv.

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