Taking Back the Trail: How the county is tackling the homeless crisis along the American River

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — If you were to use the confluence as a starting point and travel upstream along the American River Trail for just 3 miles, what you’ll see is heartbreaking.

Piles of garbage and tents are everywhere, put there by what Sacramento County Regional Parks Chief Ranger Michael Doane believes are hundreds of homeless in just a few-mile stretch.

“I came out here because I was in the hospital and dealing with some problems in the area that I was in,” a man named Erik, who has been living along the trail for the last year and a half, told FOX40.

Originally from Southern California, the 48-year-old said as a convicted felon on parole, no one bothers him there. He has no plans of leaving and will never accept government services.

“My goal is to get off this damn parole that I’m on right now and just to live and be free the way that you’re supposed to be able to be in this country,” Erik said. He added he doesn’t truly believe that will ever happen.

Sacramento County homeless services program manager Julie Field said while some of the county’s homeless population along the trail do seek help, many, like Erik, do not.

Along with a growing homeless population, the growing pushback to what’s happened has increased as well from those who use or live near the trail.

“How their space that they used to be in over the years has changed and how they have felt that it has become unsafe. And so, that’s a lot of the feedback that I’ve been getting from the community,” Field said.

Visitor Marilynne, who did not want to provide her last name, said she was from Seattle but travels to Sacramento many times a year.

“We’ve been here three months and we’ve never seen anything like that,” she said.

She said the garbage along the trail increased so much she started to document it with pictures.

Current federal law says government agencies like Sacramento County must allow people to sleep in public if they don’t have enough beds for them — which they don’t.

Because of that Chief Ranger Doane can evict people from where they are camping, but he knows they have a right to come back.

If outreach and trying to break down the mental and physical barriers is the answer, the county says it has gone all-in.

Although the transient population drastically outnumbers those looking to help, it’s one-on-one contact led by people like Chief Doane that Field says they are striving for.

“We used to create these broad systems and programs and then invite people in and say, ‘How do you fit into our system?’ And now we have really drilled it down to the person level, and we look at each person and we try to figure out what sort of intervention might help them the best. What will bring the best outcome for them and for the community around them?” Field said.

As for Erik, don’t expect to find him in a shelter any time soon. But, as he said, that’s his personal choice — one he hopes he and others are not judged by.

“People need to open their minds a little more and have a little broader perspective of the personalities of the people they see walking down the street,” Erik said. “That person might be dirty or scrunchy and have a wobble to their walk, but that don’t mean it’s going to matter how good they can talk and the conversations they can actually have.”

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