As you remember, the Placerville City Council closed down its legal homeless encampment called Hangtown Haven this fall, in part because it claimed, “The homeless encampment was attracting out-of-county homeless to the area even though Hangtown Haven did not admit non-Placerville residents.” Those of us working with the homeless knew that this was a fallacious argument, but no one could prove it. Everyone agreed that the only “proof” of this would be the crime rate; however, all we had to rely on was George Neilson, the previous police chief, who showed us his records that indicated that the city’s crime rate dropped the month that Hangtown Haven opened in July of 2012 and stayed down as long as he was chief.
However, the City Council did not buy into these facts and continued to deny that the crime rate was actually down in our county because of Hangtown Haven’s existence. I wonder how the City Council members feel now that proof has just surfaced that Chief Neilson was right. In a study done by the California Department of Justice and just released by the Public Policy Institute of California, of the 13 counties surveyed in California, 10 had an increase in crime in 2012 and three, led by El Dorado County, had a decrease. The average increase of the 10 counties was 7 percent, and Santa Clara County was the leader of the pack at 20.4 percent. El Dorado County (however) bucked the statewide trend by decreasing its crime rate by 11 percent. Did Hangtown Haven actually contribute to the decrease in crime rate?
The report had an additional fact that was very interesting. The second county that had a crime decrease (10 percent) is Placer County, our neighbor to the north. This point is significant because people in Placer County have been working with us to develop their own Hangtown Haven to house their local homeless population.
It’s significant that the only two counties reported in California that had a significant decrease in crime in 2012 were the two counties that provided some type of shelter for their homeless population. Of the 13 counties surveyed, the following were included: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Santa Clara, Alameda, Sacramento and Contra Costa among others. This is certainly a meaningful representation of the population of our state.
It is too late to save the 40 or so residents of Hangtown Haven. They are dispersed into our community; some are in the rotating shelter system, and some are camping illegally in the forests, parking lots and shopping centers of our town and county. It is perhaps heartening to them to learn that they were right. Their encampment did not cause an increase in the crime rate in our community as claimed, but, in fact, may have contributed to its decrease. Now without a homeless shelter, perhaps we can join the other counties in our state and watch our crime rate escalate.
President, Hangtown Haven