- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 16, 2009

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Dozens of the people who have been living in a homeless encampment near downtown Sacramento folded their tents and packed their shopping carts Wednesday, the deadline set by the city to clear out.

Many said they did not want to go to shelters or had heard that the city’s shelters were full.

“I don’t know where I’m going,” said Danny Valadez, 48, who lost his job as a painter and has lived at the so-called “tent city” with his girlfriend for the past 13 months. He said they didn’t want to live in shelters because there are too many rules and they feel “a little like jail.”

“Everybody’s trying to find a spot where they won’t get messed with,” Valadez said.

About 50 tent and tarp campsites remained at the tent city site and an adjacent piece of vacant land. Homeless advocates said many people left because they feared being arrested and planned to come back later to retrieve their belongings.

Police said they did not plan to make any arrests Wednesday. Instead, their mission was to help people move.

The camp about a mile northeast of the state Capitol has for years been home to about 150 homeless people, most of them chronically homeless. Advocates say many of its residents battle drug addictions and mental illness.

The parcel of land between Union Pacific railroad tracks and the American River became a popular gathering spot in part because it is close to a local food bank.

It became an embarrassment for the capital city after it was featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” earlier this year.

During last year’s mayoral campaign, Mayor Kevin Johnson had pledged to deal with Sacramento’s homeless problem. The tent city held a fraction of the city’s estimated 2,700 homeless.

Johnson decided to acted swiftly after the Winfrey appearance drew international media attention. At the same time, the property’s owner, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, sought to fence the property because it houses an electrical substation.

Johnson said the city would spend about $1 million to relocate those in the camp, expand shelters and provide more permanent housing.

Mayoral spokesman Steve Maviglio said Wednesday there were at least 35 open beds at three city shelters, including one at the state fairgrounds. “We are not at capacity,” he said.

Others, however, disputed whether the city had provided enough beds to accommodate the closing of the tent city.

“They’ve tried to help, just not enough,” said Garren Bratcher, co-director of Loaves & Fishes, the nearby food bank.

Stephanie Hayes, 39, who is eight months pregnant, and her husband Brian, 43, said they were turned away Tuesday from a shelter at the state fairgrounds because there were no beds.

“They want to move us around, but they don’t want to help us with anything. They have a shelter, but those rooms were full,” Stephanie Hayes said.

Several residents said Wednesday they would simply move elsewhere along the American River, including Renee Hadley, 38, and her boyfriend, 50-year-old Casey Riley.

“I’m just trying to hang out until this blows over,” Hadley said. “We were fine until Oprah came out. Nobody bothered us; we didn’t bother anybody. We were here long before Oprah showed up, and we’ll be here long after Oprah’s done with her fiasco.”

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