City Officials Return Home from Seattle in Continued Effort to Address Homelessness

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SACRAMENTO --

A coalition of about 20 Sacramento city officials have returned home after a trip to Seattle to observe a number of tent cities there, as they continue to look for ways to deal with Sacramento's homeless population.

The trip served as an opportunity to see how Seattle has transitioned a large portion of its homeless population into temporary housing. Sacramento is a city with more than 4,000 homeless people, 1,000 of whom sleep outside every night.

This, and a months-long protest of a city ordinance that criminalizes camping outdoors, led Councilman Jay Schenirer and 19 other city officials to Seattle.

In response to a question about how viable Seattle's solutions might be for Sacramento, Schenirer said, "I think it's possible. I think there is a lot of discussion to be had."

Seattle has sanctioned three encampments of tent cities and small wooden homes as transitional housing for their homeless. Schenirer says neighborhoods first opposed tent cities near their homes, but eventually came around.

"The neighborhood ends up getting along really well because these folks are not only providing additional security in the neighborhood by patrolling at least two blocks from their encampment, but doing garbage pickup and just being good neighbors," Schenirer said.

The vices you might expect around a tent city existed in some unsanctioned camps. The ones that have the OK from the city, Schenirer says, don't experience those issues.

"Everywhere we looked, no drugs no alcohol. They take care of their own garbage," said Schenirer.

Still, he says, don't expect changes overnight.

Sacramento is likely a long way from seeing more tent cities after a failed attempt at it in 2009. Civil rights Attorney Mark Merin says the encampments are not an end-all be-all.

"Absolutely not, but it serves a particular segment," said Merin, who was involved in the effort in 2009, and was a part of the coalition Friday to Seattle.

He's behind both encampments and small homes like the prototype small, 10-by-12 wooden home in Sacramento, on the corner of 12th and C streets.

"They can maintain a community of 100 people for a year for $120,000," said Merin, who added that kind of funding is already on the table in Sacramento.

No matter how willing they are to support homeless camps, one thing it seems every member of the coalition agrees on -- they're not a permanent solution to homelessness.

Council members say they don't plan on repealing the ordinance that bans public camping in city limits.

Protesters who've been outside city hall for nearly three months have stated they won't leave until the ordinance is repealed.

City officials say it's possible to both maintain the ordinance and implement some form of encampment areas.