By David M. Greenwald
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.
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.