Bill would require Caltrans to connect homeless people to services before clearing camps

California Connection
Data pix.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) -- While the city of Sacramento has approved measures to fast track shelters and services for the homeless, there is now a proposal for Caltrans to do the same.

The agency already has its hands full in dealing with homeless camps on state highway property. But instead of just clearing out camps that create health and safety issues, lawmakers will now consider a plan that requires the agency to connect homeless people with services to get them permanent shelter.

“They threw all my stuff away four times,” Theophlis Collins, who is homeless, told FOX40.

Collins said he will sleep on the sidewalk Tuesday night with just the clothes he is wearing. He said clearing out the spot underneath the Capitol City Freeway near 16th Street is a regular practice by Caltrans.

“It’s hard out here, it’s really hard. And by them coming to take our stuff, throwing it away, it's no good,” Collins said.

That is why Orange County Assemblyman Phillip Chen authored a bill that requires Caltrans to create outreach teams to direct the homeless to services before clearing out an encampment on highway property.

He said no one should need to sleep underneath a freeway and that the bill would help find services to get the homeless back on their feet.

“I think it’s critically important,” Bob Erlenbusch, who guides the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, told FOX40.

Erlenbusch said Caltrans is already spending resources on dealing with the homeless.

Camps are often health and safety hazards, which costs the agency $12 million annually to clean up.

Erlenbusch told FOX40 the bill humanizes the process.

“They are not criminalizing people experiencing homelessness by just issuing citation after citation after trespassing,” he said.

Caltrans has been criticized and sued in the past over its cleanup efforts that confiscate property from homeless communities.

Some of the homeless underneath the Capitol City Freeway said such a bill is long overdue.

“The proposal, I think, is kind of cool. It could be a good thing,” said John Westley.

Westley said he just moves across the street when he is chased out and comes right back.

“I come back regardless because there is no other place to go, really, you know?” he said.

Potential issues with the bill include the cost of creating a social services component within an agency created to maintain roadways and how all this will fit in with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s homeless plan for the state.

Chen's office says Caltrans can redirect cleanup funds to finance the bill, as well as draw from Gov. Newsom's $750 million plan.

Meanwhile, Caltrans says health and safety compel it to continue to clean up homeless encampments. It says it holds property for 90 days after a cleanup so it can be reclaimed.

Caltrans also says it voluntarily works with service agencies to get homeless campers help if they seek it.

But many homeless say they do not have the means, like transportation and identification, to get their belongings back.

The proposal has many steps to go, including possible amendments, before it will be voted on by the full legislature and there is no guarantee it will survive the process.

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