Caltrans has paused homeless encampment clean-ups in Sacramento indefinitely, after clearing several near X Street in late September and early October.
This comes after several community members, including City Councilmember Katie Valenzuela, criticized Caltrans.
Agency spokesperson Matt Rocco says there is “no timeline” for resuming clean-ups, which are also referred to as “sweeps.” He says the department is continuing to work with the city to find solutions that help homeless people living near freeways and Caltrans property.
His statement follows a joint press release from the city of Sacramento and Caltrans, which announced that the agency’s clean-ups would be postponed for the week of October 10 to allow “additional time to identify all available options as we work together to locate resources and collaborate on solutions.”
Prior to Caltrans pausing the clean-ups, Valenzuela wrote on Twitter that the department had not worked with the city.
“Sweeps are not a solution,” she said. “We've been asking Caltrans for months to work with us to open sites so folks that need to move from their property have a place to go.”
Meanwhile, the city has not stopped its clearing of encampments. There were several by the Sacramento Department of Utilities scheduled this past Friday, including at Morrison Creek, Power Ridge Basin and Cascade Ditch in South Sacramento.
City spokesperson Tim Swanson said that relocation of homeless campers can still occur if they are near “critical infrastructure” or on private property. The utilities department was scheduled to begin maintenance work on its flood-control system, including creeks, bridges and roads near the aforementioned three areas, on October 15. That’s considered work on critical infrastructure.
Rocco added that Caltrans also might order a clean-up if there was “immediate threat,” such as a fire or if an encampment encroached on a roadway, which he said could cause structural damage.
Sacramento County has prohibited the citation, clearing or relocation of encampments, along with the removal of homeless people’s shelter, food supplies, water and other belongings in order to decrease the potential for COVID-19 spreading. One exception was “encampments that pose an imminent and significant public safety hazard, such as a large excavated area of a levee.”
Per California law, departments that plan to clean-up encampments must give notice at least 72 hours before the sweep.
Sacramento Red Meals, a group that works to provide food and resources to homeless people, said the notices are often sheets of paper stapled to stakes or poles, or brightly colored stickers put directly on tents, cars or RVs.
“Notices are being posted correctly, but it’s important to remember these are all illegal relative to Martin v. Boise,” a representative from the group claimed.
That ruling, made in 2020, prohibits Western states including California from citing homeless campers or forcing them to move if there is no other shelter available.
During last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he was willing to “push the boundaries” of the ruling, since it only applies to public — and not private — property.
“If the choice is between maintaining long-term, unhealthy, unsafe and obtrusive tent encampments, especially on private property, versus compassionately cleaning up the city, I choose a cleaner and a safer city,” Steinberg said. “I believe that there is no right for people to camp anywhere they want in the city.”
The city continues to move forward with its Comprehensive Siting Plan, which is projected to provide at least 3,600 people with housing solutions.
Volunteers with Sacramento Red Meals and Sacramento Homeless Union have been present at the sweeps to observe. According to Sacramento Homeless Union, the scheduled sweeps could displace up to 400 people; the group posted footage of a clean-up on Stockton Boulevard this past Friday.
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