In Sacramento, Tent-City Dwellers Want To Stay California officials have announced plans to relocate many of the homeless people who have been living at a sprawling tent city on the outskirts of the state capital. But some tent-city dwellers say they have no intention of leaving.
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In Sacramento, Tent-City Dwellers Want To Stay

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In Sacramento, Tent-City Dwellers Want To Stay

In Sacramento, Tent-City Dwellers Want To Stay

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. In California, the city of Sacramento wants to move scores of homeless people out of a tent city and into a shelter. As NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, many who live there are saying no thanks.

RICHARD GONZALES: 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 up with an idea he found in a Louis L'Amour novel.

Mr. DAVE CUTCH: Old cowboys, when they'd go out into the country to get the cows, they would set up wind breaks like that, you know, with the tumbleweeds. But they would go around and collect the tumbleweeds and they'd stab little sticks in the ground to secure it.

GONZALES: Cutch came to California about seven months ago after running into a patch of bad luck back home in Colorado. He's one of up to 200 homeless people camped here, in his case, for the past two months. He says it was kind of 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.

Mr. CUTCH: Tell me what we do. 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?

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

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): We cannot look away and pretend like this does not happen, because it is happening and we must take action. 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.

GONZALES: Relocating the tent city's population will cost about a million dollars, but it's not clear how many are willing to move to the new shelter, especially since it will remain open only through the end of June. One of the tent-city people, Corvin Garlan, a former car salesman, wonders what happens after that.

Mr. CORVIN GARLAN: And besides, people out here, they're not going to go anywhere where they're going to lock you in. Would you go anywhere where they're going to turn the key and lock you in at night? No. That's just not going to work at all. I ain't going, and I don't know anybody that is, so…

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

Mr. TIM BROWN (Director of Homeless Initiative, Sacramento): People get that there'll be a place to keep your pet. You can store your camping gear, not lose it, you know, you and your partner can stay together in a private space. People get that.

GONZALES: 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. Joan Burke is a spokeswoman for Loaves and Fishes, a local homeless charity.

Ms. JOAN BURKE (Spokeswoman, Loaves and Fishes): The concreteness of the tent city and the fact that you had so many people in one spot — visibly homeless — spurred action. But it is duplicitous to say 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.

GONZALES: Back at the tent city, Dave Domon, a disabled house painter, says he hasn't decided what he'll do when the tent city is closed. His tent is on a wooden foundation, and he's graveled a small compound. He's got a heater, a battery-powered TV and four bikes. In other words, too much stuff to take to a shelter.

Mr. DAVE DOMON: I'm not sure what's going to happen. 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.

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

Richard Gonzales, NPR News.

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