Flooding and cleanup of several homeless areas in Yuba and Sutter counties in the past year have caused many of the area's homeless to move to a popular recreational area along the Feather River.
The Feather River Levee Bike Trail separates the river from Yuba City. People used to frequently walk or ride the trail or used it to go to the river to fish or swim.
Since this winter's flooding, the southern part of the path has become a trail of a different type -- of graffiti, tents, tarps, bagged trash, trash left to blow in the wind, and scorched earth caused by fires.
Sharon Younker lives in a home near the trail. She says she no longer takes evening walks on the path. Until recently, she had avoided the area entirely until some of the homeless moved their camps from the side of the levee closest to the city across the levee and closer to the river.
She says just because she has avoided the area doesn't mean the homeless have avoided going through her property.
“They go through the garbage. They were going through my father-in-law’s camper in front of our house looking for junk. They come up in people’s yards and get in the water taking water from people. That’s not right. They shouldn’t be able to do that.”
Bob McGuigan lives along one of the streets that leads to the bike path.
"Solar lights are easy to take and use in an encampment, water, food, 'can I use your telephone.' The most serious was when one of the homeless knocked on my door at two o'clock in the morning and I look out the peep hole and he was covered in blood.”
But, the government agencies tasked with dealing with this homeless encampment say they cannot force the homeless to leave.
Neighboring cities and counties continue to enforce their no-camping ordinances. But, Sutter County says the 90-or-so people living within yards of its many no-camping signs aren’t actually camping.
Nancy O'Hara is Director of Sutter County Health and Human Services. She says, legally, the homeless can stay until the county finds them transitional housing.
"They're homeless," O'Hara says. "They have nowhere else to go. Unless we can offer them an alternative, we really can't kick them out of where they're at and that's what we need that transitional housing site for."
O'Hara says the county is in talks with the owners of two sites and hopes to select one "soon."
The County says any homeless who decline the county’s housing offer can then be legally classified as intentionally homeless under the law and can be forced to move.
In the meantime, the homeless' unhappy new neighbors also worry about sanitation issues that are now within 100 yards of their back fences.
Scott Mitnick is the County Administrative Officer. He says the county is between a river and a hard place.
"If we put the porta potties in and the trash bins in, then there's concern, are we making it a de facto park or de facto living area," Mitnick says. "It's not set up to be that. But, in response to the population that's living there, the local government is being asked to take a look at how to better mitigate the human waste and debris that's being dumped there."
Mitnick says trash bins and porta potties will likely be installed within two weeks.
Darin Gale is with the City of Yuba City. He says the City has programs and services to help any of the homeless who ask. He says the City cannot help the situation on-site, however, even though the homeless are causing safety, health and environmental hazards within the city limits and downstream.
“This area is south of where our water intake is, so it’s not contaminating the water our residents are using," Gale says. "But, it is contaminating the riverway and it’s not insignificant.”
Gale says, from the river, he has also seen marijuana-growing operations in two sites.
Gale, O'Hara and Mitnick stress that Sutter County, Yuba City, Marysville, Yuba County, Levee District 1, and the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency are in talks to create a joint powers authority. They believe that would make it easier to work together, provide services, save money as they work to solve the issue of homelessness along the river.
Mitnick says the county has already spent $500,000 on the homeless this year, which includes $100,000 in vouchers during the flooding of the area known as the river bottoms. About $215,000 was spent for trash cleanup and disposal.
Mitnick says the county would at least like to clear brush and debris from the Shanghai Bend area of the bike path and the river, but the county may have to wait as long as two years.
He says the area is also under the jurisdiction of the State of California and the State may take that long to process the request.