Could the County’s Shelter Crisis Declaration Shift the Approach to Homelessness in Sacramento?

SACRAMENTO -- For the last five months, Chamisa Bell has called a tent along the American River Parkway home.

"They move you from here. There’s really nowhere to go," Bell said. "Where’s the next thing? You can’t go over there, you can’t go over here. You've got to go just out there."

Bell is one of between 3,500 and 5,000 homeless people in Sacramento County looking for shelter. She says she has been waitlisted and rejected from shelters in the past.

Instead of finding her a place to stay, Bell says park officers usually write her a ticket.

"I’ve been getting many, many tickets every week, actually. One a week for the last couple weeks," Bell said.

Each month rangers near the American River Parkway issue citations for things Bell says homeless people like herself cannot avoid. Things like having a bike in unauthorized areas or setting up a shelter on a tree.

"We’re certainly not going to ticket our way out of this," said Sacramento County Supervisor Don Notolli.

Notolli says with an additional $20 million likely on the way to the City and County of Sacramento after both took steps to declare an emergency homeless shelter crisis Tuesday the approach to handling homeless populations may change.

In September, the County Board of Supervisors decided to stop park rangers from issuing tickets to homeless people along the American River Parkway for illegally camping. In each of the previous six months, rangers issued hundreds of camping tickets.

But park ranger activity reports obtained by FOX40 shows that despite only 15 camping citations in September, there has been a major increase in tickets given out to homeless people for other offenses like littering or keeping shopping carts in the park.

There were more than 500 citations total in the month of September, which is on par with park rangers average in the previous six months.

"Hopefully we’re going to continue to take a compassionate approach and that gives us more opportunity to actually shelter folks as well," Notolli said.

If the crisis funding is used properly, shelter recommendations could take the place of citations.

"Half the money is going to go to expanding local shelters and improving the services at those shelters. And about half the program is going to go to rental subsidies, case management and support services," said Ben Avey with the nonprofit Sacramento Steps Forward.

Avey says no matter how officials within the city or county respond to the crisis, the region is in a desperate need of more housing.

"We don’t have enough housing, we don’t have enough shelters, we don’t have enough services. We simply can’t keep up with the rising tide of homelessness right now," Avey said.

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