A Cautionary Tale

Sacramento has been discussing homeless encampments becoming permanent, but in this story from the Sacramento Bee about the failure of such a project in Placerville, now being shut down, lies a word to the wise.

The only housing provided to the homeless that has shown substantial promise is that provided by Pathways to Housing in New York, which is a series of apartments scattered around the city and treatment services delivered at the scattered sites; whereas aggregate housing like the encampments, are virtually always failures as they merely reinforce the homeless lifestyle.

We have an article about this, published in the Sacramento Bee May 12, 2008, posted on our news page.

An excerpt.

In the old Gold Rush town of Placerville, born from rough-hewn mining camps, a heralded social experiment is packing up its tents today.

After just more than 16 months, Hangtown Haven, a self-governing tent city of homeless residents grappling with mental illness, alcoholism and other life issues, is closing. Its demise will end a novel attempt by a small Sierra foothills community to address a major societal challenge.

This week, after a packed chamber of local citizens engaged in emotional debate, the Placerville City Council said Hangtown Haven has to go when its city permit expires today.

“What Hangtown Haven created was incredibly special,” said Placerville Mayor Wendy Thomas in offering its eulogy.

The camp, erected in July 2012 on a forested slope lent by a property owner just east of Placerville’s historic downtown, was kept clean and crime-free by homeless residents and community volunteers. It has hosted 25 to 40 people at any given time. And the city granted an extended reprieve in hopes the settlement could solve a persistent problem of homeless people taking over local parks or setting fires in the woods.

The Haven’s closing comes after complaints that the well-publicized effort also drew an influx of transients, still more illegal campgrounds and increased litter and property crime in the town of 10,400 residents.

Though police say people at Hangtown Haven weren’t to blame for the troubles, crews are to disconnect the camp’s electricity and water supply and pull out its Porta Potties and 38 tents. They’ll soon remove the community service sheds, the warming stove, the used books library and the big-screen TV that served as an outdoor movie theater.

On Nov. 1, nearly a dozen Placerville-area churches opened a rotating shelter system to provide nighttime lodging for a limited number of homeless people, including displaced Hangtown Haven residents, during the winter months.

But an enclave that came to view itself as an extended, homeless family is breaking up. Hangtown Haven resident Cody Oaks, 27, a former fast-food worker with emotional and learning disabilities, said he is going back to the streets or deeper into the chilly woods. “I’m not going into the shelter system – ever,” he said. “It’s just not my thing.”

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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