Sutter County begins to address ‘big issue’ of homelessness | TheUnion.com

Sutter County begins to address ‘big issue’ of homelessness

Rachel Rosenbaum
Special to The Union

At one spot, Sutter County sheriff's deputies found an encampment built into the riverbank, with elaborate make-shift gates and litters of puppies.

Deputies visited the river bottoms last week and were familiar with the area and the people they came across as they gave notice of stricter law enforcement to come.

The action came with the Board of Supervisors' adoption of a policy for stricter enforcement of county ordinances — at the urging at a meeting of impassioned public speakers — including no camping and fires. In the meantime, discussion of a potential shelter has been tabled for the formation of a citizens' committee to explore.

Sutter County plans to remove the unclaimed debris left by homeless people and do vegetation trimming in a cleanup effort along the river bottoms in the spring. The county has already spent $287,000 in cleaning up the same areas earlier this year after the heavy rains (though the county hopes for reimbursement from FEMA).

While the deputies this past week made contact with quite a few people in the first few camps, it appeared others farther down the river had been alerted of their presence; many camps were empty. They took photos of each person they came across, as well as names and birthdates so they know who was already given notice.

While serving the notices and informational handouts went without trouble, Lt. Dan Buttler said he is expecting some people to resist the efforts.

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"The big issue is going to be what's left behind," Buttler said Wednesday, pointing to piles of garbage strewn about campsites.

Enforcement just one step

County Administrative Officer Scott Mitnick said Dec. that the enforcement is just one step in addressing the area's homelessness.

"This is one piece of a broader, more complicated puzzle," Mitnick said. "This is one step among many."

Across the river, two former major encampments that were cleared out last year are now repopulating on a smaller scale.

Jeremy Strang, Yuba County Code Enforcement manager, said Code Enforcement has been in an area near the old "Hollywood" and "Horseshoe" encampments, issuing notices of illegal camping. He said he identified less than a dozen encampments – nowhere near the size and scope of what they encountered last year.

But, the repopulation still poses a variety of issues, including public health, safety, and environmental hazards. Since cleaning up the area and cutting back vegetation last year, he said people have moved closer to the water for decreased visibility. One person had even dug a tunnel leading to a shallow cave in the sandy, unstable riverbanks.

"They're really putting themselves in harm's way," Strang said. "These folks need to move on before we have a high water event because they (high water episodes) come and they come quick."

Strang also said he hasn't noticed any new people flocking to the area, only those who have already been engaged with and offered services.

'Some aren't ready for help'

Chaya Galicia, Yuba County homeless project manager, said the county is always in re-evaluation mode with its homelessness efforts.

"We're always looking at what's working and what's not working and how we can improve our systems in order to have better outcomes," Galicia said.

She said repopulation is something to expect when working to get people to change their lifestyles.

"Some of them are people who aren't ready to access help," Galicia said. "Some of them we have been in contact with and we're working with them to get them connected to services."

The county has a team that goes out to homeless encampments every other week to connect people with services, she said. Just a few weeks ago, both Yuba and Sutter counties opened coordinated entry sites with all homeless services in one place, including showers and laundry.

Galicia said there are a number of barriers keeping people from seeking help: fear of change; transportation to services; and fear of vandalism or theft of personal belongings when leaving their encampments.

But overall, she believes the county is making strides.

"Absolutely we are making progress," Galicia said. "Every day we're encountering people who want assistance. That is substantial progress from where we were a year and a half ago."

The temporary housing project 14Forward opened in summer 2016 – since then, Yuba County has moved 27 people into permanent habitations, and 32 others into temporary quarters, she said.

"We're making strides, and I'm proud of our region for doing that," Galicia said.

The coordinated entry site in Marysville is at the Life Building Center at 131 F Street (530-749-6811). The coordinated entry site in Yuba City is at Hands of Hope at 909 Spiva Avenue (530-755-3491).

Rachel Rosenbaum is a reporter for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. Contact her at rrosenbaum@appealdemocrat.com.

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