Residents of Sacramento homeless camp persuade city to delay Camp Resolution closure

The city of Sacramento has backed off on a plan to close a tight-knit city-sanctioned homeless camp on May 16.

The decision, which the city detailed in a letter received Thursday morning by the camp’s lawyer Mark Merin, comes after homeless people came to City Council Tuesday in tears begging officials to not close the camp until they all get permanent housing. Several even said they were prepared to be arrested.

“Today, the City of Sacramento notified Safe Ground Sacramento that it would hold off on the termination if various conditions were met,” states a post to the city’s public relations blog titled Sacramento City Express. The post included a link to the letter sent to Merin which lists the conditions: ensuring that people are living in vehicles parked on the pavement and that leaders must “negotiate in good faith” as the city plans to develop affordable housing on the site.

Since 2022 the city has allowed roughly 50 residents of Camp Resolution in North Sacramento to live on a city lot, and gave them trailers to live in. But when some people were camping in tents on the dirt, which is against the lease for environmental reasons, the city announced plans to close it by the middle of this month.

The people in the camp, many of whom are women, want to be moved into housing units, claiming they’ve been promised that for years by city, county and nonprofit representatives. Several attended Tuesday’s council meeting to say they won’t leave the site, at Colfax Street and Arden Way, until they get housing.

“We’re not going nowhere,” Twana James, who lives at Camp Resolution, told the council. “There’s mostly women out there. They’re dying out there and you don’t have any heart for us? That’s sad. Because we’re somebody. We are somebody in this world ... we don’t cost you guys nothing. We get our own food, people come in there and give us food.”

Camp Resolution is unique because it’s self-governed, and the city does not have to pay costly contractors for operations. By contrast, the city’s 100-bed shelter at X Street and Alhambra costs the city about $10 million a year.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg promised the residents Tuesday the city would offer each of them an indoor shelter bed before clearing them off the site.

“We will not displace you from Camp Resolution without some other alternatives that are safe, dignified and indoors,” Steinberg said. “And we will work with you to try to figure this out. You are not the problem at Camp Resolution, but there are serious problems at Camp Resolution, in and around Camp Resolution. And so we have to work together.”

Since the camp opened, several tents have sprung up nearby, just outside the gate, along the bike trail, including some people who are among the 800 on the waiting list to live in Camp Resolution.

Anthony Prince, attorney for the Sacramento Homeless Union, said under his interpretation of the lease between the city and Merin’s nonprofit, the city cannot close the camp until they give everyone permanent housing. If that does not happen, Prince, who was sued the city in the past, threatened legal action.

“Camp Resolution was created on the basis of struggle and determination,” Prince said. “If they think they’re going to come out and tear that camp down and push people back onto the homeless streets of Sacramento without a fight, they haven’t been paying attention.”

City spokesman Tim Swanson did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The city is trying to find another location for the residents to go while they keep waiting to receive affordable housing, which may be built on the site that Camp Resolution now sits on, officials have said.

“I understand the frustration that housing options haven’t manifested so far but I believe the city is genuinely trying to to figure out a situation that works for residents given the situation we’re in,” Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela said Wednesday.

Since the camp opened, 16 people have been moved from there into permanent housing, said Crystal Sanchez of the Sacramento Homeless Union said during a Thursday news conference.

The city in 2022 signed a variance with the Central Valley Regional Water Board that allowed people to camp in trailers on the site, but prohibited them to camp in tents, due to vapor contamination. The type of contamination that’s present is not harmful to people in vehicles because they’re raised off the ground, the water board said at the time. Some people lived in tents anyway, prompting District Attorney Thien Ho to threaten to sue the city, as he has in the past.

The state variance is expiring, and the city did not ask for an extension.

Nobody is living in tents at the site anymore, said Joyce Williams, one of the camp’s leaders, on Thursday.

Most of the residents are over 45 and all of them have at least one chronic medical illness, Sanchez said. All but four have a documented disability.

“Camp Resolution gives us the safety and the security we need to get on our feet again. Its given us time to heal from the trauma of being out on the streets so long,” said Sharon Jones, one of the camp’s leaders.

The city be trying to avoid a similar scene to the infamous sweep in 2019 when dozens of Sheriff’s deputies went to clear a camp on Stockton Boulevard public land. They were met by a line of homeless residents and activists blocking access. The camp was ultimately cleared and is planned for housing but still sits empty, now with a locked gate.