SACRAMENTO, CALIF. (AP) - Mayor Kevin Johnson on Thursday announced temporary plans to move about 150 residents of a homeless encampment featured last month on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to shelters and transitional housing.
Johnson said the plan would extend a winter shelter on the state fairgrounds slated to close March 31 until the end of June so that the homeless from “Tent City” could be accommodated. He said the shelter also would add beds and provide more private areas for residents.
Other community groups also have agreed to take in more people temporarily, and one charity will lease about 40 permanent housing units. The city estimated the relocation effort would cost about $1 million.
“We wanted to be very clear to the people living along the river that we were not just going to go out and sweep them out of there. That would not be the humane thing to do,” Johnson said in a news conference at City Hall. “(They) are already living in inhumane conditions _ there’s no running water, no sanitation. It’s a public safety issue.”
Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday visited the encampment north of the city’s downtown along the American River, which received worldwide attention after the Oprah show even though there are similar camps elsewhere in California and in Portland, Ore., Seattle, Chattanooga, Tenn., and Columbus, Ohio.
Johnson said the Oprah show “shined a very bright spotlight on our particular situation, we looked at it as an opportunity now to act.”
Some recent news reports have inaccurately described the Sacramento camp as home to a thousand or more people who began gathering there because they lost jobs in the recession. Community groups said many of the city’s chronic homeless have gathered there for years, in part because it is close to a food bank.
“The people in the tent city are primarily chronic homeless people who have been out there for a long time,” Brown said.
According to figures from 2008, an estimated 2,700 people are homeless in Sacramento, a city of 476,000.
The number of homeless has likely increased, said Tim Brown, director of a city-county partnership established to end chronic homelessness.
Christina Hopper, 49, who has lived at the camp for about three months, said many of the campers have been there much longer and don’t want to leave.
“At first, I didn’t know what to think because I was scared, but it’s just like any other neighborhood,” Hopper said, who moved to Sacramento after her fiance lost his job in Phoenix as a driver.
Johnson said he was investigating whether a permanent tent city for those who don’t want to move inside has worked in other cities.
Johnson’s plan was supported by homeless advocates and community groups, and he said the city was working on a long-range solution. Johnson was expected to present the plan to the City Council on Tuesday.
It was not immediately known whether it had the support of council members.
Associated Press Writer Samantha Young contributed to this report.