The more people who stayed quiet, referring to themselves as the ‘silent majority,’ the worse it was for the ones who didn’t.
As a California native, what I have seen happen to this state and my neighborhood, which used to be one of the safest in the city of Sacramento, is shocking. In the past few years, we’ve had several homeless camps where shootings, stabbings and large fires have occurred in broad daylight. Whether you live on a busy street or quiet one, residents have found people passed out on their porch, needles on their property and large objects thrown at their cars.
Not a day goes by without a post on Next Door or social media where someone’s packages were stolen off a front porch, or car break-ins, and garage and home break-ins. And because many homeowners now have security cameras, we now recognize the people committing these crimes as transients camping in the area.
What I was seeing didn’t match what elected officials were telling us: they claim that this was strictly a housing issue. So, in 2017 I started an advocacy group for my community. We went to meetings, met with law enforcement and went on ride-alongs, talked to business owners, residents, transients and documented everything we saw. It wasn’t long before we realized this was a serious drug addiction and mental health crisis.
When a few us first started speaking out in the media, we were harassed online, lied about and the local press edited our interviews to make it sound controversial, leaving out important details about what we were experiencing. This only made others fearful about going public—especially business owners, who, understandably, worried they will lose customers. And the more people who stayed quiet, referring to themselves as the “silent majority,” the worse it was for the ones who didn’t.
Since elected politicians and the media give more attention to business owners, they have a more powerful voice, as we saw this week when Liz Novak, who owns a salon located off the Broadway corridor in Sacramento, made a video stating that she closed her business due to multiple transient-related issues, calling out Governor Gavin Newsom.
Novak, who was in business for 15 years, said she had to clean up needles, human feces and urine from her doorstep. She had been yelled at, harassed, was the victim of two burglaries, had her door smashed and has found people passed out in front. She said clients were complaining and too afraid to walk to their cars alone.
Both Novak and her husband were worried for her safety, so out of desperation she made a video, not knowing what else to do. Since posting that video to her Twitter, she has given multiple local and national interviews and said the support has been 97 percent positive and supportive, which has given her a sense of relief, empowerment and validation. Novak, who battled drug addiction and alcoholism on and off for 15 years, says, “We are making it too easy for people to stay addicts; I want to see them get the help they need.”
A nearby business owner, Laurie Foor of Dandelion Spa, which is located two blocks from a recent residential drug lab bust by the Sacramento Police Department, also had similar issues, including two break-ins, their front door smashed and needles with intoxicated people on their doorstep. The scariest incident was when a man who was screaming in the street threw a large object against their window, completely smashing it, right where a client was sitting inside.
Foor has been followed and harassed by the transients who camp nearby and said she is tired of apologizing to her customers for the area. “I just want to feel safe at my place of business, doing what I love with my clients of 15 years.”
Michael Sampino of Joe Marty’s, located on the Broadway corridor, said he has had to intervene several times at his restaurant and even at nearby businesses because of violent transients. He has detained people and waited for police to arrive, but many times they are unable to make an arrest.
Recently, he helped a female who was about to be assaulted by a transient at the Starbucks across the street, and the last time he was in Walgreens, a transient came in and stole several items and walked out. When he asked the staff if they were going to do something, they said they weren’t allowed even though that particular person comes in three times a week to steal. Despite the many issues in the area, he says, “I have always protected my customers and neighbors, and not tolerated this behavior, which is why I believe we are seeing a serious decline in problems at the restaurant.”
The crime we are experiencing is not just in the city of Sacramento, but the entire region. Rhina Delgado, a real estate agent who moved to California seven years ago, said both she and her colleagues have serious issues with transients breaking into homes for sale. Last week, a listing she had in Carmichael was broken into, and the house was completely ransacked, leaving 15 needles and trash behind. Police came and told her there wasn’t much they could do; the owner pulled it off the market a few days later.
Not only is Delgado seeing her business suffer, but her husband’s as well. His dental office in Fair Oaks has been greatly affected by a nearby business, which is allowing transients to camp on their property. She is extremely frustrated by what she is experiencing at home and when she travels.
“We just went to San Francisco with our two small children. Less than one minute after parking our car, a transient started to break into it. We yelled at him, which scared him off and then called police.” Delgado said the front of the hotel where they stayed was disgusting and they will not be coming back to the city. “California has a huge problem, and I don’t understand why this is allowed to happen.”
Ray McNally, of the award-winning political consulting and public affairs firm, McNally Temple Associates, has been doing extensive polling on these issues throughout the state. “The key thing we’ve found is that people have compassion for the homeless and aren’t blaming them as much as they’re blaming politicians for not solving the problem. They see things getting worse, despite millions being spent, and they’re concerned for their safety and personal property, because of transients with serious substance abuse and mental health issues.”
McNally says that the well-intended legislation, such as Proposition 47, which decriminalized theft, drug use and possession, while eliminating real incentive for treatment, was the perfect storm and had the opposite effect. “When we moved into our office in downtown Sacramento in 1989, there was a halfway house and a methadone clinic nearby. We worked hard to clean it up and had great success, but in the last four years, it’s become worse than it was then.”
“At what point do elected officials admit what they’re doing isn’t working?” McNally asked. “How is it compassionate to leave someone with serious mental health or substance abuse issues on the street and pretend you’re letting them live a life of freedom and dignity?”
McNally added, “We work with law enforcement who tell us many of the homeless are drug addicts and sex offenders who refuse services, yet politicians continue to base policy on the small number who are on the street because they lost their home. The voters no longer believe this is a housing issue.”
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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