Illegal Camping & Homeless Property

This issue has festered into a very burdensome financial and legal mess for local government due to their their past failure to deal effectively with enforcement of the laws against camping in public space, particularly in the American River Parkway; where illegal camping in the Parkway’s Lower Reach—from Discovery Park to Cal Expo—has been rampant for decades with only on-again off-again attempts at eradicating.

Maintenance of public order and providing for public safety, while always to be complimented with a strict observance of individual human rights, has to reflect the common good.

The struggle to protect the American River Parkway from the ravages of illegal camping continues in a confused and uncoordinated manner, for which we all, including the Parkway, suffer; and the area most heavily impacted is the Woodlake area, which has set up a Facebook page to centralize photos and comments about the issue.

So far however, local public leadership has struggled to find that balance in this particular case; instead allowing the buildup of a nexus of homelessness-enabling domestic service providers who do not provide complimentary individual responsibility-inducing services, in close proximity to Parkway camping sites, which has long been attracting the homeless from far and wide.

Two local leaders, who are aware of the problem and have been trying to do something about this, addressed it last year:

“I’m very concerned that the stretch of the American River Parkway on both sides, from the confluence all the way into midtown, is pretty much dominated by homeless and transients.” Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn, in the Sacramento Bee:  “American River camp extends Sacramento debate on ‘safe ground’. (December 20, 2011)

Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna in the Sacramento Bee; Viewpoints: Comprehensive view needed to deal with homeless, parkway. (February 23, 2011)   Article is no longer on Bee website) “Let’s also remember that the parkway itself is a “constituent” here. Illegal camping has produced tons of trash and debris, some of which is hazardous biological waste. Illegal campgrounds, large and small, “self-governed” or not, contribute to this problem. Along the American River Parkway, refuse has collected in makeshift dumps, and what doesn’t remain in these derelict collection sites oftentimes is spread by the wind, is scavenged by animals or ends up pooled along the riverbanks.”

In the latest news, the property of the homeless living in illegal campsites has become the issue, as the Sacramento Bee reports last month.

An excerpt.

 “Nearly 900 homeless men and women have filed claims for reimbursement for bicycles, tents and other items seized by city police during raids of illegal campsites in recent years.

“The claims are part of an unusual process to resolve a federal class-action lawsuit charging that police stomped on the constitutional rights of homeless people by grabbing their belongings and throwing them away without giving the owners a chance to get them back.

“As of Wednesday, 864 people had filed claims for property seized by Sacramento police since 2005, said Mark Merin, a Sacramento attorney representing the homeless. Merin said he expects more claims to be filed before the deadline at the end of the day today.

“Plaintiffs whose claims are approved will receive payments of either $400 or $750, depending upon the value of the property.

“The city could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to homeless people, depending upon how many claims are deemed valid, plus attorney fees for four years of work and a three-week trial.

“Senior Deputy City Attorney Chance Trimm said, however, that the city will fight any claims that appear to be bogus, and might go to court to fight paying attorney’s fees.

“Some of these claims are missing key information,” such as birth dates and Social Security numbers, and will likely be thrown out, Trimm said. Others list campsite locations such as “the Snake Pit,” and “the Island,” names familiar only to homeless people and their advocates.

“A professional claims administrator will make a preliminary ruling on the validity of each case.

“If a dispute arises that cannot be resolved between the battling parties, a federal judge who has been appointed as a special master in the case will step in.

“The process follows a federal court trial last year in which a jury found that the city failed to properly notify homeless people about how to retrieve their possessions, and failed to implement policies for handling that property.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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