Homeless Living by the River

Though this story from the Sacramento Bee isn’t about the homeless illegally camping in the Parkway—it’s about those camping next to the Sacramento River—it does reveal a strategy Yolo County is using that Sacramento County might explore.

It also reveals how deeply embedded homeless illegal camps along rivers can become and how many homeless prefer living there, something North Sacramento communities have known for some time—unfortunately—regarding the illegal camps in the North Sacramento/Cal Expo area of the Parkway.

An excerpt from the Bee story.

For the past 17 years, Steve Cruz, a 55-year-old homeless man, has subsisted in multiple locations amid the bamboo, grasses and oaks along the Sacramento River.

Other homeless people came to know – and trust – Cruz so much that they anointed him the unofficial president of a colony of riverbank denizens encamped north of the Broderick Boat Ramp in West Sacramento.

On Wednesday, as city officials, police and nearly 100 volunteers helped the homeless pack up their belongings and take them to a converted motel, the colony president widely announced that – at last – it was safe to leave.

“This place was our security. This was our family. This was our ground,” said Cruz, a former assembly line mechanic and Army veteran afflicted by what he simply described as “some issues.” “But people are now really overwhelmed that someone is coming to help. It’s been so long in coming.”

Under a program called the “Bridge to Housing Pilot Project,” 71 long-term homeless residents, plus their 47 dogs and 22 cats, were moved from the river encampment. The prescreened residents are being provided housing and directed to a host of services, including mental health and substance abuse treatment, and job and life counseling….

Cindy Tuttle, a former West Sacramento mayor, said residents getting relocated from the river area had lived there an average of 4.5 years and many for well over a decade. “It’s been kind of traumatic for some of these people,” she said of efforts to move them out.

Among those having a hard time Wednesday was Lovie Bishop, 55, Cruz’s girlfriend.

Cruz had built their home with plywood that washed up on the river banks, plus logs and tarpaulins. Shrouded behind a thicket of bamboo, it offered a sense of security and a haven for the couple and their three dogs, a pit bull named Cassandra and two mixed-breeds, Butter and Tillie.

Bishop, who has been homeless for 22 years, had a career as a cashier for a state agency before mental health problems took hold. In recent years, she found comfort in her life on the river, fishing for catfish and sturgeon and serving as a guardian to the local deer by running off would-be hunters.

“I love the life out here,” Bishop said as she broke into tears. “I can’t leave this world without it making me cry. I’ll cry about not being here. It’s killing me.”

Retrieved November 13, 2014 from http://www.sacbee.com/community/yolo/article3882668.html

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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