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Camping ordinances that criminalize

Shout out to Sarah Rabanales, former SJPC intern, for her work on this piece!

The Sac County Board of Supervisors came together on Tuesday, August 10th and among other things, passed two ordinances against folx camping outside.

The two items relevant to the ordinances were:

  • Item 02 - Introduce An Ordinance Amending Chapter 9.120 Of The Sacramento County Code To Prohibit Camping And Encampments On Or Near Certain Public Property Locations In The Unincorporated County Area

  • Item 03 - Introduce An Ordinance Of The Sacramento County Code Amending Sections 9.36.058 Relating to Fires, and 9.36.067 Relating To Remaining In The Parkways Between Sunset And Sunrise And Adding Section 9.36.083 To Prohibit Camping Or Constructing, Maintaining Or Inhabiting Any Structure Or Camp Facility In The American River Parkway and Dry Creek Parkway

Although these items were presented separately, they were very similar because they both further restrictions on where unhoused people are able to set up encampments.

Item 02 recommended four new areas: critical infrastructure, wildfire/flood risk areas, shelter parameters, and youth-serving facilities, to the Sacramento County Code to Prohibit Camping and Encampments On or Near Certain Public Property Locations In The Unincorporated County Area. The item was passed for finalization and adoption on August 23rd. This ordinance was subsequently adopted, and will give law enforcement the ability to carry out the penalizing activities listed in the ordinance, and will require the staff to make a list of facilities and infrastructure deemed as ‘critical infrastructure’ and present it to the board to include in the ordinance.

Next steps for item 2 - pulled from 8/10 meeting slide deck

Similarly, Item 03 also recommended more restrictions to encampments by establishing the prohibition of maintaining, constructing, and inhabiting without a permit in the American River and Dry Creek Parkway. The adoption of this item also prohibits the use of flammable containers, combustible liquids, gas or propane powered generators in parks AND the of use American River and Dry Creek Parkways between the first hour after sunset and sunrise.

Next steps regarding item 3 - pulled from 8/23 slide deck

A presentation was given by the Regional Parks Director about the parkways and their important ecological and historical significance. After these presentations concluded, the BOS allowed for scheduled public comment on these two items.

The public comments ranged from strong opposition to strong support for the items. Many supporters of these items expressed fear for their safety, concerns over the environment, drug use, general safety over those in the encampments, etc. Many advocates opposing these items argued that the further criminalization and restriction of these encampments will not stop the problem - instead long term housing solutions are needed to properly address the homelessness crisis - namely the provision of permanent supportive housing.

On the supporting side, MANY people cited their fears and concerns over this crisis which is understandable because it does affect the entire community.

On the other hand, it is incredibly valid to ask where uprooted unhoused people should go, and what criminal enforcement will ACTUALLY accomplish. Other than the obvious result of increasing the jail population. Sadly, no one received the answers they demanded.

The BOS unanimously voted to approve and pass these items, but some Supervisors, such as Nottoli, expressed concern and a lack of confidence in these items because they are not the end-all be-all solution for issues of homelessness. He indicated that he voted in favor because they need to do anything at this point to ‘combat’ these issues. It's important to note that these ordinances will do absolutely nothing to 'combat' homelessness, unless you count incarcerating greater numbers of the unhoused population as a victory.

Unfortunately, the decision of the BOS to pass these items will result in the continued displacement, harm and criminalization of many that face financial hardship, mental health challenges, addiction, and/or housing instability. This is another band aid "solution" made to cover up a devastating problem Sacramento is facing. These ordinances criminalize and ignore the needs of many, and continue to stigmatize their existence.

As a community, we should really, really urge our local government to come up with more long term and sustainable solutions that work to actually connect people to resources to receive help and housing instead of restricting the areas people are allowed to occupy.

For people facing a range of challenges and crises, sometimes illegal encampment is the only option available. We urge SJPC readers to continue to advocate for the unhoused community, and for more sustainable and permanent housing solutions instead of expanding law enforcement responses or implementing restrictions that look to ignore the true root of the issue.

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