Homeless camp’s success may spell its doom

By From page A1 | November 11, 2013

By many accounts, including those who have had negative experiences with the homeless population in Placerville, Hangtown Haven, the legal encampment for the homeless, is working well. But, despite the success of the experiment, it is still scheduled for closure on Nov. 15 — perhaps because of its very success.

Detractors of the homeless camp see the camp as a magnet for homeless people from all over the state. The illegally camping population of homeless has burgeoned in the past year according to a report by Placerville Police Chief Scott Heller, which can be accessed on the city’s Facebook page.

The report states that Placerville Police Department began tracking contacts with Habitual Transient Offenders based on observed and reported criminal activity in July of 2012. The report defines Habitual Transient Offenders as individuals who habitually violate the law by aggressively panhandling, trespassing, illegally camping, urinating/defecating in public, engaging in arson, and using and abusing alcohol and narcotics in public.

A 92 percent increase from 2012 to 2013 in the number of Habitual Transient Offender contacts was noted in the report as well as a 25 percent increase in burglaries and a 62 percent increase in general thefts. The majority of the Habitual Transient Offender contacts, as well as the burglaries and thefts, are occurring along Broadway, according to the report.

The report further states an increase in Habitual Transient Offenders that are not from Placerville. “The police department has very few contacts with local Placerville homeless in crisis,” stated the report. “A review of contact data reveals a substantial number of individuals from outside our region and state migrating to our area as voluntary homeless.”

The report cautions business owners and citizens to report nuisance violations and to avoid giving cash or food to panhandlers and give instead to charitable organizations that assist those in need.

Concerned neighbors in the Smith Flat and Wiltse Road/Lumsden Park area contacted Placerville Police and the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office reporting home break-ins and transients defecating on their property. On Nov. 3, a group of Smith Flat residents met with EDSO deputies to talk about what they can do in response to the homeless population that camps near their homes and the El Dorado Trail.

One resident of Wiltse Road said neighbors are selling their homes at a loss in order to move to safer locations and that some neighbors are afraid of speaking out at Placerville City Council meetings against the homeless because of possible retribution from the illegally camped homeless population.

Hangtown Haven, Inc. applied for a renewal of the Temporary Use Permit that allows the camp to exist legally, extending it through July 1, 2014. This application will come before the city council at the Nov. 12 meeting for its review and action. The city council meeting begins at 6 p.m. at Town Hall, 549 Main Street in Placerville.

In the city manager’s report for the Nov. 12 meeting, city staff recommends the denial of the extension of the TUP based on concerns about a lack of safe pedestrian access to and from the site; the inability of the site to be all-weather capable; concerns that the continued existence of the camp would be subject to an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act; and the temporary nature of the facility which was not intended as a permanent solution, but as a “stop gap” measure to get some of the residents through last winter.

If the TUP for Hangtown Haven is not extended, the camp will close. Nomadic shelters offered by faith-based organizations opened Nov. 1 for the evenings and are the homeless’ only option to illegal camping.

“In anticipation of the end of the Temporary Use Permit for Hangtown Haven, the city’s legal encampment for the homeless, the city and county have been working in close collaboration to help transition the current residents to their next step,” said Placerville Mayor Wendy Thomas in an e-mail to the Mountain Democrat.”

As directed by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors at the Sept. 10 BOS meeting, a team of county staff is evaluating potential shelter locations. At the Nov. 5 BOS meeting, a motion to continue to explore options for transitional housing sites and alternatives was approved. A report on the findings is scheduled to come back before the Board on Jan. 14.

Placerville City Manager Cleve Morris and Mike Applegarth from El Dorado County CAO’s office have been working together to look for potential day shelters and exploring the possible costs and funding options.

“Hearing from the Haven representative that transportation and storage are significant concerns, Mike Applegarth from the CAO’s office has met with transit officials for options in acquiring and distributing transportation assistance, and they are looking at locations near potential day shelter sites where we could place some type of storage unit,” said Thomas.

A team from EDC Health and Human Services was prepared to meet individually with residents of Hangtown Haven on Nov. 5 at Town Hall to ensure they were connected to all of the services for which they are eligible, but the meeting was canceled.

“Only three of the residents wanted to be part of the meeting and, since it was in the morning, the 15 residents who have jobs weren’t able to be there,” said Art Edwards, co-founder of Hangtown Haven.

“The offer is still out there, however,” said Morris.

Edwards said, “The city is doing their best, but I think everyone is assuming the nomadic shelters are going to be a solution. With the addition of the Hangtown Haven residents, that puts 50-60 people in the shelters at night and some of the churches that offer the shelters are just too small for that many people.

“Hangtown Haven is costing the city and county zero now,” said Edwards. “But they are willing to put up some money to move us around. It’s just simpler to leave us where we are. ”

“We are grateful to all the churches and non-profits for their efforts and we look forward to finding answers to this challenge that makes sense for our entire community,” said Thomas.

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.

Wendy Schultz

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