At this time last year, Sacramento’s homeless population was squarely in the national spotlight. A report on the Oprah Winfrey show called attention to a sprawling tent city along the American River, even though similar tent cities had existed in Sacramento for years. Within weeks, local officials shut down the illegal campsite and offered a mix of short- and long-term housing options.
Now, one year later, we wondered – where are they now? So we tracked down three former tent city residents and found they’re still struggling, whether indoors or out.
This is the heart of Sacramento’s homeless community: Friendship Park, part of the Loaves and Fishes compound just north of downtown. On any given day, you’ll find dozens of people grabbing lunch or just hanging out and catching up with friends. Just outside the gates, Renee Hadley is getting off her bike.
Hadley: “Oh, my god, my life’s been crazy since Tent City.”
Hadley’s spent time in two different apartments, but didn’t see eye-to-eye with her roommates.
Hadley: “I’ve been indoors and back out here again. And it’s just – it’s been one big roller coaster after another – like when you think you’re stable and everything’s going okay and you take three steps forward, you get knocked back two. And it’s really hard and difficult.”
Despite living on $1,000 a month, Hadley says she’s been saving money for rent. She and a friend plan to move indoors next month – as far away from here as possible.
Hadley: “Just so we’re away from downtown. This place is depressing. It’s sad. It’s going nowhere. And it reminds me of going nowhere.”
But for now, Hadley spends her nights inside a large grassy ditch she calls the Snake Pit. It’s below the American River bike trail – and from the top of the ditch, she can see her old campground through a fence.
Crotty: “We’re scattered. It’s hard to find people out here now.”
That’s Eric Crotty, who’s standing above the Snake Pit. He’s currently camping just down the river from where he enjoyed a mansion by Tent City standards: a series of tarps that was probably 50 feet long and 12 feet wide.
Crotty: “’Bout maybe a thousand yards. I can see it. But they got it all fenced off.”
Crotty, too, has bounced back and forth between indoors and out. After the tent city closed, an organization that works with the county offered him an apartment. It’s called Sacramento Self-Help Housing, and it’s put roofs over 40 former tent city residents’ heads this past year. But for Crotty, who makes no bones about his drug addiction, it didn’t work out.
Crotty: “I was getting the place because I use drugs. So I choose to go out to the river and do that, and have a safe place to go home. Other people were choosing to do that there and screw that up, as opposed to – that’s what we got the spot for.”
And not just other residents, Crotty says – his monitor, a former homeless person in charge of supervising the new renters, was on drugs, too. So two months later, Crotty moved out.
Crotty: “It was great for us, but it just – the dynamics of who they had staying there wasn’t working.”
Crotty was one of around 70 former tent city campers who spent at least some time in housing over the past year – out of roughly 200. That’s according to the city and county’s 10-year plan to combat chronic homelessness.
But at least two former campers found a home without using that program at all.
Lydia Marez has survived a lot in her 24 years, starting with her mother and stepfather:
Marez: “I ended up in the hospital because he tried to suffocate me and I couldn’t breathe. Lock me in trunks. Leave me on the side of the road. Kick me out of the car, drive off, come back hours later. And she just let it happen. There was physical abuse as well as sexual abuse. And when I told her about it, she’d beat me cause it was my fault.”
The county moved Marez to foster care when she was seven. But as a teenager, she ditched school, got hooked on drugs and ran away. Then came six years of homelessness. She lost two of her own kids to Child Protective Services. But last April, two days before officials closed the tent city, she found out she was pregnant again. She quit using drugs cold turkey – and decided to get off the streets. Yet for Marez and her boyfriend, whom she calls “Weto,” getting housing through the county proved easier said than done.
Marez: “Right after Tent City closed, they told me and Weto that we were priority because I was pregnant. Well, we went out, we looked at a house, and we decided, yeah, we want this one. We picked out furniture for it and everything. And we were supposed to get keys on a Friday. They were like, well, no, you’re not gonna get it until Monday. You’re not gonna get it until another Friday. So they just kept pushing it off and pushing it off…”
Turns out they wouldn’t give her the apartment because her boyfriend had a medical marijuana card. So Lydia and Weto moved from motel room to motel room – first using city-funded vouchers, then their own money from selling bikes. Eventually, they found a home in North Sacramento. And when I visited last week, I found a healthy-looking four-month-old Izabella.
Marez: “Without her, there’s a lot of things I wouldn’t have done. I wouldn’t have quit using, I wouldn’t have tried so hard to get into a place, I wouldn’t be going to school. I want to be a doctor because of her now. That’s what I’m gonna go and major in at Sac City, and then I’m gonna transfer to a four-year college. There’s a lot of “because of her’s” that are really good.”
Marez won’t call her story a success yet – not til she gets through school and lands a permanent job. But she does call it a work in progress. After all, she says, a year ago, Governor Schwarzenegger leant her $23 when he toured the tent city. Now?
Marez: “I want to pay him back, because I’m doing better!” (laughs)