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In Sacramento, Tent-City Dwellers Want To Stay

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In Sacramento, Tent-City Dwellers Want To Stay

U.S.

In Sacramento, Tent-City Dwellers Want To Stay

In Sacramento, Tent-City Dwellers Want To Stay

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/102448047/102448003" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A train passes by tents at a homeless tent city Friday in Sacramento, Calif. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson announced plans to shut down the tent city where about 200 homeless people are staying. hide caption

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A train passes by tents at a homeless tent city Friday in Sacramento, Calif. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson announced plans to shut down the tent city where about 200 homeless people are staying.

In California, the city of Sacramento's desire to move scores of homeless people out of a tent city is meeting some resistance.

Sacramento's tent city sits on the windy banks of the American River on the northern edge of downtown. Some residents have scrounged up scrap wood to make fences around their tents. Others, like Dave Cutch, a welder by trade, came upon an idea he found in a Louis L'Amour novel.

"Old cowboys, when they would go out into the country to get the cows, they would set up wind breaks like that — you know, with the tumbleweeds," Cutch says. "But they would go around and collect the tumbleweeds and they would stab a little stick in the ground to secure it."

Cutch came to California about seven months ago after running into a patch of bad luck in Colorado. He is one of up to 200 homeless people camped here, in his case for the past two months. He says it was quiet until the national media discovered the tent city. Now you can count Crutch among those who have had enough of the wind, the lack of sanitation and even nosey reporters.

"Tell me, what do we do?" Cutch asks. "I mean, you can go and report all this stuff and you can go back to your house, be secure, which is cool, you know you got a job. But the people who lost their homes like myself, lost my job, what do we do? What do we do?"

Resistance To Plan

The sense of frustration and confusion are palpable here, especially since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a plan to eventually close this encampment and shift about 150 people to the state fairgrounds across town.

"We cannot look away and pretend like this does not happen, because it is happening and we must take action," Schwarzenegger said. "And that is why we are doing all we can to do right by the people who are living in these difficult circumstances in these difficult times."

Relocating the tent city's population will cost about $1 million, but it's not clear how many residents are willing to move to the new shelter, especially since it will remain open only through the end of June.

Tent-city resident Corvin Garlan, a former car salesman, wonders what happens after that.

"People out here are not going to go anywhere where they are going to lock you in," Garlan says. "Would you go anywhere where they are going to turn the key and lock you in at night? No."

The job of convincing the skeptical tent-city residents to move is left up to Tim Brown, director of Sacramento's homeless initiative. He has already started the painstaking task of approaching people individually to try to persuade them to leave.

"People get that there will be a place to keep your pet. You can store your camping gear, not lose it. ... You and your partner can stay together in a private space," Brown says. "People get that."

The City's Other Homeless

Homeless advocates are generally supportive of the governor's plan, but they say there are another 1,200 homeless people on the streets of Sacramento not living in the tent city.

"The concreteness of the tent city and the fact that you had so many people in one spot — visibly homeless — spurred action," says Joan Burke, spokeswoman for Loaves and Fishes, a local homeless charity. "But it is duplicitous to say that this is going to solve the problem of homelessness in Sacramento; 1,200 people don't fit into the 200 or so beds that are being offered."

At the tent city, Dave Domon, a disabled house painter, says he hasn't decided what he will do when the tent city is closed. His tent is on a wooden foundation and he has graveled his small compound. He has a heater, battery-powered TV and four bikes — too much stuff to take to a shelter.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen," Domon says. "I'd just like to be left alone myself. I like it right here where I'm at. So I don't know what's going to go on. I don't know. I'm not real happy about it."

But being left alone isn't in the cards. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson says the city won't sweep people out, but he has made it clear the tent city will be closed within a month.

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