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Tent city in Sacramento there to stay?

March 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
New suburbs are emerging around California's capital city. They're "tent cities," home to hundreds of people suddenly homeless in this economic downturn. It's a sad and discouraging sign of the times. As many as 1,200 people are sleeping in Sacramento's growing tent cities that for now will continue to be a part of the landscape.This is the sad reality of a California city hit hard by foreclosures and huge job losses: In the shadow of downtown Sacramento, tent cities have sprung up, housing as many as 1,200 people.

"This is my bedroom. That's my DVD player, my stereo, my recliner," said Rico Morales, the de-facto "mayor" of a tent city. "I just try to keep the peace, keep organized, make sure everybody eats."

Many of the homeless don't fit the stereotype. One man who pitched his tent here used to build homes. Many others had good jobs and stable family lives until the economy spun out of control.

Now the real mayor of Sacramento, former NBA star Kevin Johnson, is thinking about sanctioning these tent cities, essentially legally zoning them. With a $50 million deficit, the city cannot afford to expand services.

"Our shelters have seen an increase, four-fold," said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. "There's not enough shelters, and I believe as a city, we need to look at every option, and tent cities is something we should consider."

For the most part police are looking the other way, which may be one reason the tent cities have grown so quickly.

Neighbors close by would like to see more enforcement of zoning laws.

"I have constituent neighbors that live there that are terrorized by these people day and night," said Sacramento City Councilman Ray Tretheway.

Tent city residents don't want to live this way.

But with nowhere else to go and no jobs to get, they say providing land where police wouldn't harass them would help their already difficult life.

"That's a big thing," said Daniel Thomas, one tent city resident. "We don't like rolling up everything that we put out and having to find another spot, only to get messed with the next day."


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