Monday Morning Thoughts: Clearing Homeless Encampment, Was This Handled Correctly?

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Like in many other communities, homeless encampments have sprung up in Davis.  This is not unique to Davis of course, but you have tents and makeshift cardboard beds—not to mention more noxious things like garbage and human excrement—in high concentration.

It’s shocking to see large concentrations of people living in these conditions in 21st Century America.  And yet I often think people are more appalled by having to see this and having the nuisance in their lives rather than the conditions that arose to create this human rights crisis.

Like many communities, Davis is kind of a mixed bag in response.  The city has made a concerted effort to create a respite center, there is Operation Roomkey, opening hotel capacity for homeless people during the pandemic.  Segments of the community have stepped up to provide Winter Shelter.  There are new developments like Paul’s Place to serve vulnerable individuals living in homelessness.

On the other hand, there are still no large scale homeless shelters in Davis.  We saw the city crack down on aggressive panhandling.

A few years ago it was homeless in the downtown being a bit overly aggressive, as well as the overall problem of people sleeping in public areas with messes and sanitary positions, that led to outcry from the community.

When the city created the respite center pilot two years ago, we suddenly had an outpouring of concern.  Why?  People were concerned that locating the center in a certain location might cause problems.

What we have seen locally in the last few years in Davis, like in much of California, is makeshift encampments—there are some along freeways and bikepaths, and there was one along F Street north of Covell that got cleared out this week by the county and the city.

My view has been, hey look, I know it’s a great hassle to your sensibility to see that human beings who have no homes have to live under wretched conditions in plain view of you and the community.

In fairness, not everyone views it that way—some are genuinely concerned about the problem and have been looking for reasonable solutions.  But for many, the problem is that they have have to see it, it’s messy, it might be unsafe, it’s definitely unsanitary and a nuisance.

For some it’s get rid of them.  If they could shove them into a van and dump them in Sacramento, they would.  Or somewhere else.

If it were legal to do so, I think you would see a big movement to simply throw homeless people in the back of the paddywagon and drop them off in Sacramento or maybe Fairfield.

That leads us to the operation that occurred last week.  There was a joint effort to clear out the area along F Street near the Cannery and north of Covell.

Again, there is a whole long list of reasons to do this, but the thing that stood out to me is this appears to have been done without a true plan as to what will happen next.

One other thing that stood out was the fact that there was no clear place to go.

For example, normally they would be encouraged to go to Fourth and Hope in Woodland—but that possibility has been closed down because of a COVID outbreak.

There is also a lack of emergency beds in the city.

Finally, you can blame the victims too—there is a general resistance among some in the homeless community to using traditional shelters.

Add that all up and what you have done is clear one spot in town and it’s kind of like squeezing air out of one section of a balloon—the air has to go somewhere else.

So you have some nice quotes in the local media.

For instance, Deanne Machado, who directs police services for the Davis Police Department: “I’m not entirely certain where all of them will end up.”

Hey, look, we get that encampments are not good on any number of levels.  The public officials made it clear that leaving the encampment in place is not an option—the conditions were hazardous, unsafe and at the very least a huge fire risk giving all the dry brush and propane tanks.

But shouldn’t there have been more of a plan on where they were going to go?

“It’s just not a good place for the homeless as we’ve all agreed previously,” said Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza.

Mayor Gloria Partida noted that “some of this population don’t take the offers of help and would be more open to going somewhere they can continue to set up (camp) and maybe get that outreach.”

But this is the problem—unless we are going to invest in fulltime shelters and address the underlying mental health and substance abuse issues, we simply move the problem around rather than actually solving it.

So a good number of people will applaud clearing out the encampment along F Street, but it’s really only a temporary reprieve.  Because we haven’t actually solved the problem and it’s simply going to pop up now somewhere else—until the officials get tired of that location and we do the same thing, over and over again.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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35 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Clearing Homeless Encampment, Was This Handled Correctly?”

      1. Ron Glick

        You need to ask?

        The rent is too damned high. Every artificial impediment to adding supply pushes prices up. Lack of new supply increases rents in old supply. Increased rents makes it difficult for those on the margin to be able to afford rent making them vulnerable to homelessness. Of course there are people who are mentally ill or addicted to drugs but there are others who have jobs that don’t pay enough to make the rent.

        I remember talking to a woman who was homeless in Davis. She had a job but couldn’t afford rent and so she lived in her car.  This woman was lucid and not a drug addict. She was working poor. The policies you support help keep her that way.

      2. Richard_McCann

        Ron G

        This problem is endemic to many communities in California. Woodland has its own problems without Measure J/R/D. This is a multifaceted problem of which local policies are a small part.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Richard raises a comparative point that I would – it’s not clear that Davis has any worse a homeless situation than anywhere else in the state, none of whom have Measure J.

        2. Ron Glick

          “This problem is endemic to many communities in California. Woodland has its own problems without Measure J/R/D. ”

          Rents are cheaper in Woodland. Note that I was talking about working poor renters who are on the margin.

           “it’s not clear that Davis has any worse a homeless situation than anywhere else in the state, none of whom have Measure J.”

          Actually many communities have put in place limit lines. I think Petaluma was the first. So while it is a statewide problem it is also a local problem. One that you support so I see your machinations on housing and homelessness as nothing but crocodile tears.

          You talk the talk but you don’t walk the walk.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            The problem is you have no empirical basis to support your claim against Measure J on this issue – you have just your opinion against Measure J.

  1. Sharla Cheney

    I’m going to guess that each of the “tenants” of the camp have been contacted multiple times with offers of help.  That the people rejected the offers doesn’t mean that they can stay where ever they please.  I hear of a plan to find a location for a safe camping area in Davis with access to bathrooms, etc. but many activities would not be allowed (stolen bike storage and dismantling, drug use, spreading trash and body waste, etc.).  The City and County needs to move faster on finding a location.  This is a difficult group of people with complex problems, but the community has a right and an obligation to set parameters on behavior.

    All of the fears about the respite center have ended up being true – loitering, vandalism, drug and alcohol use, assaults, etc.  But it’s in East Davis, so it doesn’t matter.

    1. Alan Miller

      I often think people are more appalled by having to see this and having the nuisance in their lives rather than the conditions that arose to create this human rights crisis.

      I resemble that remark  😐

  2. Richard_McCann

    I was surprised at the timing just when 4th and Hope had recently closed due to the COVID outbreak. It’s like it was calendared and it was too much bother to reschedule.

    The other problem appears to be one that the cities and county should be anticipating, which is that many have animals that are more important to them than housing. It’s going to need a rethinking of how to allow animals in shelter housing.

  3. Keith Y Echols

    I’m not sure how you can question if the City and County’s handling of the clearing of the F Street Homeless encampment was done correctly when you didn’t state how it was done.  Were they just shipped out to Sacramento?  Did they just scatter to the wind?  Did some of them go to the various homeless county and city homeless programs?

    I live not too far from the F Street homeless encampment.  I always took the approach that if they didn’t bother me, I don’t see a reason to hassle them.  But their stuff would sometimes collect near the road and look to be a bit of a nuisance.  The only interaction I had with a homeless person was on the path that goes through an underpass of F street and Covell from Speedee Oil Change to the Little League fields.  I was walking my 6 year old on our way to the Farm team baseball field (which is close to that path) and saw a tent set up close to the entrance of the underpass (but not in the way).  The guy who owned the tent was very friendly and complimented my son’s baseball bat and told him good luck.  I felt like he was going out of his way to be friendly to present himself as not a threat.  However, after numerous trips on that path through the underpass the stench became unbearable.  Obviously the homeless were relieving themselves around that area; so we stopped going that route and simply walked a little further around by crossing F and Covell.

    You alluded to community hygiene possibly being an issue.  Perhaps there’s some community basic medical standard that can be applied on when it’s time to move the homeless from an area wholesale…regardless of their long term prospects.  Maybe if some of the homeless start to appear in the ERs with communicable diseases it might be time to clear out their clusters of dwellings?  I’m all for leaving them alone and not hassling them.   I agree that the city, county, state and feds need to continue to look at solutions that help the problem (shelters, mental health services…etc…).  But I think mass relocation and removal has to be a blunt tool option for an immediate solution for homeless problems that get out of a local community’s ability to manage.

    1. Keith Olson

      However, after numerous trips on that path through the underpass the stench became unbearable.  Obviously the homeless were relieving themselves around that area; so we stopped going that route and simply walked a little further around by crossing F and Covell.

      And there is a reason why they should be removed.  When citizens no longer use public pathways and other things due to either safety or hygienic reasons the situation has to be remedied.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Just noting that there are vast areas of public land where one can camp for free.  And no one will “remove” you.

          But they’re generally not in or near cities.

          These are the lands that Arlo Guthrie sang about.

        2. Ron Oertel

          For someone with your view and assumptions, perhaps.

          As a side note, not all of what a city can provide access to (especially for someone struggling) is a “good” thing.

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      Keith – I don’t doubt the issue of nuisance, my problem was not clearing the area but rather clearing the area with the stated policy by public officials that they don’t know where the people will go.

      1. Don Shor

        the stated policy by public officials that they don’t know where the people will go.

        Of course they don’t know where they will go. From comments by many people who directly interact with these groups:
        They are offered services and decline them.
        They won’t go places where they can’t keep their dogs.
        They won’t go places where they have to follow rules.
        City and county governments don’t have the resources or locales to house them all.
        The sites they are occupying become serious threats to public health and safety, especially fire safety.

        You and others seem to be suggesting that they should be allowed to stay where they are until all of them can be provided a specified place to relocate that has those services and resources. I don’t know where you think that should be.
        So bottom line: when a campsite reaches a critical mass with respect to the safety of the public, the camps are going to be removed. They’ll disperse. We have, as far as I can tell, people working for both city and county who interact with them and inform them of the resources available. Those who choose to continue using their drugs of choice will not have a place to go, so they’ll relocate until it becomes a problem in that new location.
        No, this is not optimal, but there really is only so much you can do for people who won’t accept help. And these discussions, here and especially on nextdoor, turn into exercises of shaming residents who are tired of bearing the brunt of all the adverse consequences of having allowed the campsites in the first place.

        You all need to listen more carefully to the residents who are putting up with all this. We now have the day respite center near our business. It’s had an impact on the neighborhood, and it’s not great. Please don’t make naive assumptions about what can be done. The city is in a bind and sometimes just has to do things that seem uncompassionate in the interest of public safety.

    3. Alan Miller

      KYE,

      Your experience is quite different than mine.  We had camp that was having fights and staying up all night and drug sales to people coming by car and parking in front of our home and bicycling/walking, doing drugs in cars adjacent to our homes.  I had three guys (probably) on meth stand between me and my house when I went to check on all the noise at 1am – and threaten me and then picked up a handful of rocks and threw them at me, hitting me in the shins.  There’s the incident of the naked person bouncing on Davis resident’s trampoline, or the women sworn at by a ‘homeless’ person and told to go back to Asia. A neighbor got into a fight with a ‘homeless’ person by the SPCA Store and now has a permanent injury to one hand that has seriously restricted use.  A friend of a friend had an encounter at a local restaurant where he and his kids were threatened including a threat to sodomize his kids.  There is now the smell of urine on downtown sidewalks and some walking paths on hot days.  The train station is littered with trash as is the bicycle undercrossing of I-80, the F Street drainage canal among numerous city paths.

      That is my and others Davis experience with the so-called homeless.  Those of us who live near the railroad, drainage ditches, the respite center, some public paths, etc. have to put up with these behaviors with a brunt way out of proportion to those who live in the ‘burbs’ of Davis.  District 3 takes it in the nuts.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Your experience is quite different than mine.

        There’s the incident of the naked person bouncing on Davis resident’s trampoline, or the women sworn at by a ‘homeless’ person and told to go back to Asia. A neighbor got into a fight with a ‘homeless’ person by the SPCA Store and now has a permanent injury to one hand that has seriously restricted use.
        That is my and others Davis experience with the so-called homeless.  Those of us who live near the railroad, drainage ditches, the respite center, some public paths, etc. have to put up with these behaviors with a brunt way out of proportion to those who live in the ‘burbs’ of Davis.  District 3 takes it in the nuts.

        All is correct, and all is a problem, not easily addressed .. . that is real

        The labelling of all homeless (or ‘so called homeless’) in the same mold, reminds  me of other ‘problems’ in history… or ‘apparent’ problems… Blacks, “Irish Catholics”, Asians (particularly the Chinese, Japanese), Jewish ancestry, Moslem/Muslim, etc.

        The purges of, or by, those “groups” are legendary.  Behaviors we need to address… underlying reasons for those behaviors, same… ‘labelling’ gets so in the way of that.  But that seems to be the way most “roll” (rhymes with ‘troll’)… we need to address issues/behaviors… classifying doesn’t move the football… 2 cents

  4. Alan Miller

    Hey, look, we get that encampments are not good on any number of levels.  The public officials made it clear that leaving the encampment in place is not an option—the conditions were hazardous, unsafe and at the very least a huge fire risk giving all the dry brush and propane tanks.

    I have dozens of articles saved of ‘homeless’ camps causing fires throughout the state, in some cases these set nearby houses on fire – others caused grass fires or damaged businesses.

    But shouldn’t there have been more of a plan on where they were going to go?

    That takes lots of money, lots of time, and lots of political will.  Do we have any of those three?

    “It’s just not a good place for the homeless as we’ve all agreed previously,”

    Where is a good place?  For those who do not yet know, there was a homeless encampment fire last night (10/21) just before 4:00am across the parking lot from the Boy Scout Cabin.  The fire spread to the Union Pacific railroad signal box and knocked out train dispatcher ability to control the Davis railroad plant, including eleven rail switches.  The railroad was shut down for a couple of hours and continues to be operated ‘manually’ delaying all trains.  How long it will take to rebuild all the wiring in the switch boxes lost to the fire is unknown.

    This is an area that was wink wink nod nod not cleared because it is a block removed from businesses and residences.  Union Pacific, however, is probably going to have a talk with the City about not clearing these camps near the railroad.  I submit we should always, daily be clearing these camps by the railroad (such as Boy Scott Cabin / F Street / New Graceland), even if we “don’t have a plan”.  Heartless you say?  Do you realize over a half-dozen homeless and/or mentally ill people have been hit by trains in last several years?  Even outside of suicides, some ‘homeless’ have been hit being too close to the tracks, trying to outrun trains, or being intoxicated.  I don’t see anything merciful about allowing this population to continue to set up shop near tracks when there is a direct correlation to this contributing to multiple deaths.

    I agree we should have a City camping spot, but when do we find that magical spot that no one is going to be impacted by?  They tried this in Chico and set it up by the airport, but a judge ruled it wasn’t close enough to town, and very few used it.  Sure it seems fruitless to simply ‘move them on’, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen until there is this magical ‘place to put them’.  ‘Where they are’ is not a good place to be.

    1. Bill Marshall

      That takes lots of money, lots of time, and lots of political will.  Do we have any of those three?

      And, do we do nothing until all 3 are met, or do we ‘improvise’, and do what is needful in the current moment?  Good point Alan M.  Difference between the ‘ideal plane’, and what needs to be done in the current reality.

      but when do we find that magical spot that no one is going to be impacted by?

      The true crux of the matter…

      People want the issues to “go away”… but not affect them… proximity, financially, convenience.

      Some of those believe society should ‘pay’ for the costs of making “the problem” go away, as long as it doesn’t include them… only a burden for others, not themselves…

      Some believe “they” are not even ‘human’, and just a nuisance, to be excoriated/excised from society and their conscious/conscience… by whatever means…

      Some believe if we or others put enough time, effort, resources, $$$ into something… everything will be perfect… most of those expect the time, effort, resources, $$$  come from everyone but them.

      Then, there are a few who put their time, effort, resources, $$$ into doing what they can, knowing full well it will never be perfect, but they can positively affect some others… perhaps even ‘heal’ them.  Where they, in turn, are positioned to ‘heal’ others… the ‘slow arc’…

      The vast majority of folk are not patient…

  5. Ron Oertel

    trying to outrun trains

    I’m consistently surprised at the number of homeless (and non-homeless) people who attempt to do this, sometimes in vehicles ignoring crossings.

    Do you not see that many-ton object heading toward you? Or, do you think technology has advanced to the point where those things can stop in a manner similar to a car, for example?

    Do you not “hear” it coming, at least?

    I am pretty sure that no matter how I ultimately die, it’s not going to be from a train.

    1. Keith Olson

      I was traveling on a train from San Jose to Davis and someone committed suicide by train in Santa Clara.  I don’t know if it was a homeless person but the train conductor said it was a common occurrence.  Per protocol there had to be an investigation and we were all transferred to a bus and another train station and our 3 hour train ride turned into 7.

      1. Ron Oertel

        There is that, isn’t there.  And as you said, not all that unusual.

        As tragic as that is, I’m not sure why it takes them so long to get things moving again.  Life goes on for others.

        Though as I said the other day, I’m not entirely sure that the world will exist after I’m gone, nor am I sure that it existed before I was born. I’m not even sure that it’s here right now (whatever that means). 🙂

        Perhaps they’re making sure it’s not a homicide (e.g., something like that great movie “Double Indemnity”.)

    2. Alan Miller

      Rail suicides/vehicle-collisions/etc. are very common, several per month, sometimes several per week, on the three state corridors.  I get the reports. That doesn’t include freight trains and long-distance Amtrak trains.  There have been a couple within 100′ of my house.  I found one of the bodies – you don’t want to know the details.

      The coroner has to be called if there is a death.  They are often not immediately available nor nearby, so this can take hours, as can their investigation.  I would put the average at three hours, though it can range normally from 1-4 hours.  Sometimes there is also the need to contact a specialized hazmat crew to clean up human parts on/under/beside the train.  This can also be time consuming.  The coroner can hold the train and stop the whole railroad while they conduct their investigation.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Rail suicides/vehicle-collisions/etc. are very common, several per month, sometimes several per week, on the three state corridors.

        I would put the average at three hours, though it can range normally from 1-4 hours.  Sometimes there is also the need to contact a specialized hazmat crew to clean up human parts on/under/beside the train.  This can also be time consuming.

        They suddenly become “hazardous material” upon death?  And, they weren’t that way prior to death?

        Are they hazardous to people inside the train?

        Rhetorical questions, though the subject matter is grim.

        In any case, I don’t think an employer would put up with this (after a certain point), in regard to constant delays of their employees on commuter lines. At a certain point, people likely do view it as more of an “inconvenience”, than “tragic”. Or at least, in that order.

         

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