The story of an encampment: What happens to those on Sacramento’s streets after they’re forced to move

Photograph by Levi Meir Clancy

To unsheltered people caught in the displacement game, promises from city and county workers are plenty – deliveries, they say, are few

By Elizabeth Meza

On a recent Tuesday evening, Josh Mateo, 31, stood on the corner of Howe Avenue and Fair Oaks Boulevard with his American Pitbull Terrier, Kalina, and watched as cars went passing by them.

He had not eaten yet. 

Mateo was getting ready to call it a night and head back to his makeshift shelter, except this time he had to walk farther than usual. In mid-April, he and other unsheltered Sacramentans had been occupying an encampment on the corner of Howe Ave and Fair Oaks Blvd. The City of Sacramento has since forced the group to move. 

“We were lied to and told that we had to leave under certain circumstances because they had to do construction work on the sewers.” Mateo recalled. “They ended up selling the property to somebody and put up a fence so that we couldn’t get back in.”

The site is inside Sacramento city limits but adjacent to unincorporated Sacramento County.  According to a statement made by Assistant City Manager Chris Conlin, the city of Sacramento entered a lease agreement with a local group interested in the property. The property was designated as a work zone and was vacated for safety reasons. 

Conlin added that the city’s Department of Community Response and the County’s Department of Human Assistance have visited the site multiple times to offer services to the 30 people who used to live at the encampment.

“The county came one day right before the police made us leave: they said ‘We will try to help you get housing but we don’t know if we will be able to,’” Mateo remembered. “And they didn’t let us know that that (evacuation) was happening either.” 

The fence that surrounded the property has been replaced by a metal gate. Mateo said he and others were threatened with police force if they didn’t leave. 

“We didn’t get enough time to get our stuff,” Mateo explained. “They bulldozed our campsites and whoever didn’t get the chance to get their things, got them thrown away. They said they would use police force if we didn’t comply.”

Lisa is a 57-year-old woman who also used to live on the property before she was forced to relocate. She declined to give her last name.

“Imagine that every time you sit down, a cop tells you that you have to leave,” she said. “I’m old. This is not the retirement plan I picked.”

Lisa now roams the area during the daytime and returns to the corner of the intersection of Howe Ave and Fair Oaks at night. The encampment had trees that provide shade. Lisa now has nowhere to go during peak temperatures. 

“Now it’s just a dream to have a home again,” she noted. “I just realized recently that it’s never going to happen and I’m going to die out here.”

Aileen Mestas, 22, has been a Sacramento resident for the past year and resides in an apartment complex near the property where the encampment was. 

“My main concern is that they don’t have a place to stay anymore.” Mestas said. “I feel like the county isn’t doing enough. The least they could do is find them a stable place to live.”

It is unknown where many of those living in the encampment went after they were forced to leave.

A Sacramento City spokesman declined to comment, referring to the statement from Conlin posted online. 

“Not too many of us are getting housing,” Mateo countered. “Some went to the river and other people dispersed into the community.” 

Mateo added that he was lucky to get a Homeless Outreach Navigator from the county.  

“The heat has been pretty bad: We got a navigator who is working on getting me and Kalina inside,” he acknowledged. “I don’t like her being outside when it’s hot. It’s somebody from the county; they put people into these houses. Three to four homeless people per house and everyone gets their own room.” 

As of mid-May, Mateo said he had yet to hear from his navigator about housing. He said he and many others still do not have housing or access to services they were promised before they were forced to move. 

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9 Comments on "The story of an encampment: What happens to those on Sacramento’s streets after they’re forced to move"

  1. If you don’t work and can you shouldn’t be given for free what others work for. You’re painting victims out of people who choose to do drugs openly, not follow laws, and not work- and you want the rest of Society to carry the burden. If they can’t follow the law they should be kicked out of city centers. If they can work and choose not to they should be sent to a labor camp. It is not the functioning part of society who follows the laws burden to bare, or the governments. Total BS

    • You’re making the assumption that every homeless person is a drug addict, criminal or lazy, and that’s not true. Many of the homeless can’t afford the high rent prices, are mentally or developmentally disabled, veterans, youth who have aged out of the Foster care system, senior on fixed income, college students who loss housing during COVID-19, etc. Too many people hatefully paint them all with the same color of paint on a broad brush.
      Too many people lack basic humanity, and are proud of it. Sad.

  2. Many are in fragile living situations, easily kicked out and onto the street. Rent is VERY high. Going to work when you are homeless and depressed is difficult hill to climb. If you have mental illness, dual diagnosis, you take drugs or booze due to the mental illness since you CANNOT get mental health treatment(Called self medicating), adding depression of being homeless and the poorest of the poor, “Get a job you bum” is not a solution. The city and county in most all areas of the USA does the kicking of the can down the road since I lived here starting in 2000. They basically move the homeless around. Fine I suppose if the homeless are few, those are easy to treat and get services for, but where do you house and treat 3000+ homeless? That’s a LOT of people. Many just die on the street. NIMBY’s yell and complain about shelters and services. They called their council members and the Mayor, County and threaten them. Thing is, and ironic, the homeless are already living next to you with these numbers. At least they are treated and housed, drug and mental services, security etc. NOT doing anything is the worse case and that is exactly what the city and county is doing, not just here, but most cities in the USA. Affordable housing in Sacramento? the SF Bay area? Haha, no way, NIMBY’s scream about any of that near their homes. Why? They invested a lot of their $ into their home and will protect it against anything that will drop it’s value. Conservatives(obviously) and Liberals(not so obviously)are guilty of both NIMBY based behaviors here. I give $ to the homeless shelters and non profits here(Loaves and Fishes mostly). City and county get plenty of my $ from property taxes and other tax. One tries(Non profit shelters and charity organizations), the city and County have not solved anything much over the last 22 years I’ve lived here. Lots of promises to fix and do this or that. Very few deliveries. Hold them accountable. Hansen claimed he’d help and do things for the homeless. He did not.

  3. The strong sense of entitlement comes through loud and clear from many of the homeless. They demand free housing with no rules, no responsibilities, and no requirements for sober living or work attempts. Too many social justice warriors demand the same. This is enabling, and serves no one in the long term. Open up your own homes, warriors. See how long you last with one of these folks sharing your bathroom. I vote for giving the innocent dog safe housing though.

    • Too many people lump the homeless into one category as being “entitled,” as though they personally know every homeless person and their story. Too many people rabidly attack the homeless as though they are righteous and divinely entitled to do so.
      there are entirely too many humans who are anti-humans. Sad.

  4. A true reflection of civilization is how those less fortunate are treated. As you can see by the above comment we have devolved quite a bit

  5. Services already exist for those homeless needing drug rehab and employment. For the mentally ill, reinstate humane facilities where they can live and get treatment.

    No civil society should tolerate street living.

  6. Nicole Maron | June 3, 2022 at 6:20 pm | Reply

    Ignorance, churlishness, and miserliness like “John Deere”‘s is typical but should be dismissed out of hand. The more tax dollars spent on housing, social, counseling, and medical services for these folks, the healthier, happier, cleaner, and safer our communities will be.

    It’s not rocket science, just let go of the meanness of judging people in dire straits and do the math. Not helping them increases the number of people on the street, which increases the cost of policing them. Helping them will decrease the number of folks on the street. It is far cheaper and more productive in the long run to help, rather than police, our unhoused neighbors.

    This is where our Measure U money should be spent, and it’s what a lot of us thought we were voting for when we supported it. A full 50% of the Measure U funds are now spent on law enforcement. It’s not just absurd or disgraceful — it’s ineffective.

  7. a home was once a place to raise your your family became larger you sold your home and bought a bigger a house is a investment to make a profit on . cities now care more about property values. then the people in the city. along as property values stay high. they generate more revenue.just think about Detroit when it was a great city . look at it now. where did all those people go.when their property was worthless. look at all the ghost towns throughout the west. where did they all go too. remember the shanty town under the bridge in about old Sacramento or “skid row”.cheap hotels.not anymore. all redeveloped to generate more income for the cities.nolonger is there anyplace that is affordable to much of the population.more building codes. more fees just to build anything.and already there is no affordable housing priced from ever getting built without even starting to build.i guess we will all go somewhere affordable. maybe Detroit.

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