Do Neighbors of Sacramento’s New Homeless Center Have a Right to Be Unhappy?

Say a homeless man had run into your yard with a machete, yelling that he was going to kill you. To chase him away, “I helped him over the fence with my shovel,” said Ron Jellison, a 73-year-old former special education teacher who grew up just behind Sacramento’s Del Paso Regional Park and lives there still. This wasn’t a one-time thing, either. “I’ve been attacked three times on my property.” Or say a different man in a psychotic episode had broken into your barn across from that same park one winter morning, brutally attacking one of your beloved rescue horses with a claw hammer and killing your rooster, chickens and ducks. There is no morning, Dennis James says, when he doesn’t remember that awful day, and no morning when he doesn’t feel a fresh wave of apprehension as he reaches for the latch to let the ducks out. Or imagine that as you walked through the park one day, moving slowly on your cane, a man living in his car had come at you in a rage, then pulled a “baseball bat-sized limb” from a tree and started beating you with it. “It split my head open,” said 70-year-old John Mayfield, requiring 7 stitches and causing significant hearing loss. All of these attacks happened in the area just behind Sacramento’s new Outreach and Engagement Center on Auburn Boulevard, which since it opened in late September has been offering assessment and placement services, a shower and a sleeping mat to as many as 50 homeless people at a time. None of these incidents occurred since September, though. And it’s hard to say whether things have really gotten worse since then, or whether preexisting problems in the area are easy to pin on a program that neighbors never wanted and can’t help seeing as a magnet for more trouble.

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Either way, I’m in no position to tell someone whose head was bashed in or whose horse was nearly beaten to death how he ought to feel. “We’ve not had anything catastrophic happen since they moved in,” said another neighbor, Charles Duckworth, which doesn’t mean that “90 days or 1 year or 5 years from now, somebody is not going to come out of there and do something in the neighborhood.” A few years back, said Duckworth, who is 72, “I had my front door kicked in by a homeless guy — a drunk guy looking for somebody. The city has ignored the park for 40 years.”

Jellison, who is one of the leaders of neighborhood opposition to the center, does not pretend that his concerns are new. “This is a generational fight,” in part over the city’s cyclical neglect of the park since way back when “a criminal element took over in the 50s. The drug culture, the human trafficking, the gangs were all here, and the homeless were just another layer on top of that.” Still, there have been “many more complaints” to the city from neighbors since the center opened, according to Hezekiah Allen, of Sacramento’s Department of Community Response. Why? For one thing, neighbors seem to expect the center to be doing more to get homeless people already living nearby off the street. But since the program is voluntary and referral-only, that’s not how it was set up to work. People camping in tents on the creek downstream from the center have nothing to do with the program, which does not take walk-ins except during extreme weather. But those living in the encampments clearly are responsible for the trash and needles and waste in the water. “They use it as their personal bathroom and wastebasket,” says Duckworth. Which can’t help but color how residents see the center.

On one of the neighborhood tours Jellison took me on, we interrupted a man whose legs were sticking out of the open passenger side door of the truck where he was parked with a young girl at the end of a residential street in the middle of the day. Trafficking in the neighborhood is nothing new. Neither are many of the other affronts to the sense of security of those who live here: The attack on Cindy and Dennis James’s animals was in January of this year. The attack on Mayfield was in February of 2020. The man with the machete ran into Jellison’s yard years ago. But anyone who’d had the experiences that these Sacramento County residents have had would have been scarred by them. And just as many homeless people are where they are as the result of some serious past trauma, so too have these particular opponents of the Auburn Boulevard homeless center been traumatized. Mayfield, who used to be a neighborhood ambassador for the park, mostly avoids it now. Dennis James is a lot more wary in general: “Every time I see someone walking down the street, if I don’t know who they are, I think, ‘Why are they here?’ I wasn’t that way before.” His wife, Cindy James, says her reaction to the new center is simple: “I think we should all chip in funds, buy a really nice tent and put it in front of the mayor’s house.” These are not uncaring people. “My best friend is 40 years sober,” says Duckworth, while someone else he was close to, whose addiction went untreated, died on the street. Yet the clash between these neighbors and the desperately needed center, run by other compassionate people, is the kind of conflict that continues to keep programs across the country from ever opening at all. So somehow, we have to figure out how to make situations like this work. Which is what neighbors and officials from Hope Cooperative, which operates the city-owned center, are in theory going to try to do at a community Zoom meeting on Dec. 13.

Click here to read the full article in the Sacramento Bee


  1. California has thousands of acres of farm/government land far from cities and towns. Rehabilitation centers need only have moderate security if escapees have to walk 10 or 20 miles to civilization. The key word here is CIVILIZATION. Homeless have given up on civility. We have laws to deal with vagrants. Lock them up or rehabilitate them. Our prisons do a lousy job preventing recidivism. So, if we are serious about getting the drop outs back into society, we have to really fix the mental illness and drug dependency that makes up the majority of the homeless. So far, the only thing our government does well is tax collection and expand power.

  2. Mary M. Cunningham says

    When the people in power enforce only the laws they like and make laws that lead to more personal destruction civilization dies. Our country is falling apart from within as agents of our destruction have taken over our schools, social media, news and government. We have been at war for a long time with our global enemies and they are winning. Destroy the mind the family and blind justice and you are looking at a future of Totalitarian slavery. The park is a local example of our entire country.

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