Searching for Hope: Homeless in Sacramento

Searching for Hope: Homeless in Sacramento

Annc: What would you
like the power to do? At Bank of America listening
to how people answer this question is how we learn how
we can lend, invest, give and volunteer to ensure the
Sacramento region remains vibrant and vital. Bank of America is proud to
support public television. Annc: Brought to
you by Kaiser Permanente, advancing our mission to
improve the health of our members and the
communities we serve. ♪♪ Narrator: We’re looking at a
world most of us would never want to visit. A place that feels safer
from a distance, filled with people we would never want
to know, and yet, we cannot take our eyes
off of them. This is homelessness, up
close and personal, in Sacramento, California. Woman: I don’t know. I don’t
want to talk about it right now. Narrator: A state with the
fifth largest economy in the world. A state and a city with a
problem and no clear solutions. Paul: Yeah, I have to look for
another spot to move to. Narrator: California’s
homeless problem has reached epidemic proportions,
an underculture of the forlorn, struggling for
health, for dignity. Narrator: The challenges, the impacts, the possible solutions. Narrator: Ahern Street in
Sacramento at North B. In the middle of a great city with beautiful river views and home to the governor and
California’s state capital, there are places where
conditions border on the medieval. Woman: My stuff, it, it, it
don’t smell. Narrator: No bathrooms. No running water. A minefield of infectious
disease and gloom, and just one location among
many in Sacramento. Under the freeway
near Broadway, 31 year old Kenneth Whitlock,
depending on who describes him, is either a victim, a villain,
or a rebel. There is no question that this
environment has shaped him. Kenneth W.: I
have no parents. They’re, they’re gone. My, my dad died. My mom, my mom died. So… yeah. Narrator: And now, Kenneth
Whitlock has become a symbol, especially to
the city of Sacramento. The city attorney has filed
an unprecedented lawsuit, charging Kenneth and six
other homeless people with being a public nuisance and
a drain on police resources. The city wants them banned from
the Broadway corridor. The legal action has
ignited a fierce debate. Mark Merin: This is a statute
that defines a public nuisance, and individuals are not
a public nuisance. It’s unprecedented. This is,
this is so totally contrary to our constitution,
our understanding of rights to travel freely. Narrator: Civil rights
attorney Mark Merin represents Kenneth pro bono. Mark Merin: And we’re so
far from actually living our principles in this country. It just, it’s, it makes me
just very angry, frustrated, and I feel that most of the
people who are making these decisions are
just hypocrites. The reality is that
they’re really being criminalized for just
being poor or homeless. Narrator: Specifically, the
lawsuit charges Kenneth with vandalism and theft. Kenneth W.: I don’t steal
from, I don’t steal from the poor, I steal
from the rich. That’s all I’m going to
say, but I’m being honest. Narrator: He is also charged
with drug related crimes. Man: These
are new ones? Man: Yeah. Kenneth W.: Most of
the homeless do drugs. They do meth, crystal meth,
they do heroin, they do everything because
they’re sad, they’re depressed, they’re
miserable being on
the streets, being on the slums of
Sacramento. Narrator: Here on the
street, laws mean little. Unwritten codes
become gospel. The homeless live in a
morally-flipped universe, where what’s right can be
wrong, and what’s wrong often becomes right. Kenneth W.: I hustle. I do whatever it takes to
get the next buck, not do whatever it takes like
sexual, but I hustle as in I do whatever it takes to
ease myself, to ease my pain. Mitch Rohrer: The drug
dealers coming to these people who are living in these camps
to sell them drugs. Narrator: Selling drugs
while living practically right next door to the
genteel world most of us take for granted. Land Park, so lush, so green,
so close to the freeway. Mitch Rohrer: And
there’s been theft. There’s been instances
of vandalism, defecation on people’s yards. Narrator: Mitch Rohrer
is president of the Neighborhood Association. Here you’ll find homes worth a
million dollars, yet blight
is in plain sight. Some here say
they’ve had enough. Mitch Rohrer: I’m going to
fight for public safety. Narrator: Two neighborhoods
so close, and yet so far apart. Rebecca Lesui: This is my first
time ever being homeless. And it hurts me because
everybody that come out here, they automatically
assume that I’m an addict, because every homeless
person is an addict, but that’s not true. Narrator: Rebecca Lesui worked
as an in-home caregiver, until the hours went away,
and then the income. Now this is all
she can afford. Rebecca Lesui: I didn’t want
to be out here, but I’m out here
because of life. Narrator: And Rebecca, just
one of almost 6,000 people living on our streets. Darrell Steinberg: In
California, two thirds of our homeless population is
living outdoors, and I think because some of those folks
are so visible, that we make it easy to forget that there
are a lot of people on the streets who are
real victims. Mitch Rohrer: The majority
of these, I would have to refer to as vagrants,
because these are folks who, passing through the
neighborhood, coming into city center to get food or
clothing or whatever they need and then back to their
camp, wherever that may be. Narrator: Mitch is
describing a cycle, and Sacramento Mayor Darrell
Steinberg knows all about it. He co-chairs a statewide
commission dealing with the estimated 100,000 homeless
across California. Darrell Steinberg: I think
that’s unacceptable, and I think most Californians
think it’s unacceptable, and if it costs 1.5 billion
dollars a year to get 75,000 or 90,000 people off the
streets, in a shelter with the right intensive
case management, that’s better than we have now. Narrator: What we have now
are too many places like this. The K Street mall turned into a
refuge of last resort. (barks) Dion Dwyer knows it intimately. He works for the Downtown
Sacramento Partnership. They do their best to provide to
connect people with housing. Dion Dwyer: People often say
that we have a housing crisis, but I’d say we have a
humanitarian or homeless crisis that’s stuck in a
system that is in crisis. Our mental health and our
drug addiction services, they’re just not able to meet
the needs of an individual on the sidewalk. Officer: Jerry, you
need to come out. Narrator: Across Sacramento,
from downtown to even in midtown, homelessness
is more than a humanitarian issue. When taxpayers and property
enter the equation, it becomes political. Rosanna Garcia lives and
works in midtown. Like many residents and business
people across the city, she supports shelters
as a solution. But when Mayor Steinberg
asked every neighborhood to identify possible locations,
many people pushed back. Rosanna Garcia: Everybody
doesn’t want it in their backyard, and you can’t
just put them all on a bus and ship them out. If you don’t get to the root
cause, it’s just always going to be, and the root
cause is mental health. Woman: Boom. I find businesses
that blow me away. Narrator: And so the ever
elusive questions: How did we get here?
How do we solve it? And is there a place
for people where low-income housing
is so hard to find? Where just the number of
people living in cars has increased by 60%
in two years? This is not how 68 year old
Lesan Strait chose to live
her golden years. Lesan Strait: My bed. Narrator: Though in this
world any roof beats no roof at all. Lesan Strait: This
is how I get in. Try to. Narrator: And yet Lesan
is hardly unique. She’s one in five. That’s how many homeless
seniors we have. 20%. Laurie Mendoza fits
the demographic, too. Laurie Mendoza: This is my
sanctuary whenever it gets too difficult out
there on the streets. I had a house in Fair Oaks. My grandchildren were fourth
generation into that house. Narrator: But, the bank
foreclosed on that house in 2010. It reduced Laurie’s
life to this and whatever comforts
she could muster. Laurie Mendoza: I have
cooked in here, but it’s, it’s dangerous, you know,
and you really don’t want to do that. Narrator: Laurie
has four sons. Growing up in the old place,
life was good, until 19 year old James developed a
serious mental illness. Laurie Mendoza: He was in
Napa hospital for nine months, and when he came out,
they did a wonderful job. Narrator: But next, a
change in medication. It sent James spiraling. In an absence of treatment,
Laurie is convinced he’s living somewhere out here. Laurie Mendoza: He’s
doing the drugs too. Narrator: So now Laurie
is out here, worried that her
son has given up. Every day she searches,
praying for the relief and simple pleasure that would
come from seeing his face. Laurie Mendoza: You know,
and I’m all he has. I feel like I’m not going
to live very much longer because of this all. Sometimes he lays back here. Narrator: Despondency begets
determination, and finally luck as at last
she spots her boy. Laurie Mendoza: James. James? Narrator: But it’s only a
respite for a mother with a son having mental health
issues while addicted to meth and living
on the streets. What can save her child? Laurie Mendoza: So,
what’s going on James? Daniel Hahn: We have to
have enough ready services and programs to
meet the needs of that population, and until we
do we’ll continue to experience issues
on the street. I think there’s also a
misnomer that the solution to very complicated
and diverse issues such as homelessness can have
a simple solution. Narrator: Simple solutions?
Elusive when we confront the skyrocketing numbers
of homeless people. Lisa Bates: Every couple of
years, every community is expected to do a
point-in-time count. This is a requirement from
the federal government. Narrator: The latest count
shows homelessness has jumped 19% in Sacramento in
two years, with close to 6,000 people living
on our streets. Lisa Bates: 93% of the folks
that we surveyed said they come from Sacramento, so it’s
dispelling a myth that somehow Sacramento is
attracting people from outside the region. Mitch Rohrer: I don’t
believe the statistics that all of these people
are homegrown. I believe when you open
up and you say, “Oh, here I am, I’m open for business for
vagrants or homeless people. Come and get your needles,
come and get your food,” that they’re,
they’re going to come. Narrator: Wherever the
homeless come from, they now find themselves in a
turf war between the haves and
the have-nots. It falls on the police
to protect everyone. Daniel Hahn: Police officers
are in a job that, only police officers can
respond to some of things that police officers respond to. Police officers
are expensive. Narrator: Studies show
that between 911 calls and emergency room visits,
supportive housing is actually cheaper long-term
than chronic homelessness. Sergeant William Wann leads
a special homeless impact team. He took us to filthy water
tunnels where people live. William Wann: It is a
drainage ditch, yeah, and right now it’s kind of
somewhat dry, but when the rain starts it’s
going to be, they’re all going
to be under water. Narrator: Which means that
all of this stuff has to go. The living rooms, the game
rooms, the crack pipes, the shopping carts,
and of course, residents like Paul Flanagan. Paul Flanagan: Right now I
live in the tunnel and, Mack Road and Stockton. I have to look for
another spot to move to. Narrator: It might
eventually be here. On this lot in Meadowview,
the city plans to build what it calls a
“low barrier triage shelter.” Low barrier means no drug
testing and pets are allowed. There is one catch: The new
shelter will accommodate women and children only, so
guys like Paul out of luck. William Wann: In this case,
we’ve got people that are completely blocking
the sidewalk. Narrator: Back at
Ahern and North B, morning sheds light
on eviction notices. Everyone here
knows the drill. People clear the sidewalks
while police, they offer one person a slight ray of hope. William Wann: They have one
bed for a woman that will be available at
11:00AM, so basically it’s the same thing that
happens every day. We call over there to see if
they have any shelter beds available, today they
had one for a woman. Woman: Good, good, good. Narrator: It is a fact
of life out here that communities
of color represent homeless people
disproportionately. William Wann: If you lose
track of the little wins, then it’s just going
to be too depressing. Narrator: But there
are so many others. Tonya Richardson
grew up in chaos. Like 80% of the homeless,
her parents used drugs. It seemed almost inevitable
that she would too. Tonya R.: My mom was in and
out of jail and prison, and I started using
heroin when I was 10. Narrator: Tonya and others
like her do get some support. During days, she leaves
her dog, Ryder, in a kennel at
Loaves and Fishes. When night comes, the two of
them walk over to City Hall and find a place to sleep. She has every
right to be here. In 2018, the 9th Circuit
Court of Appeals ruled that if shelters
are not available, homeless people have a
right to sleep outside. Those legalities are hardly
a comfort for Tonya as she settles in
on the hard concrete. Tonya R.: It just takes a
long time, because there’s
not enough housing. Is my stuff okay back there? Crewmember: Oh, it’s okay. Tonya R.: Okay. Crewmember: We’re
watching it. Tonya R.: Sorry. Narrator: But nowadays,
she can’t even take this for granted. Sacramento is appealing the
9th Circuit decision to the Supreme Court. If lawyers win and sleeping
on the street becomes illegal, what happens
to people like Tonya? Darrell Steinberg: I do not
want to get to a place where we lose the humanity here,
because it’s still an issue of people who, through no
fault of their own, find themselves in the worst
of situations. You know, “But for the grace of
God, there go I.” Narrator: A few blocks
from City Hall, Moody Tangsley lives in
a cardboard box. From one day to the next, he
moves from corner to corner, hustling his next cigarette
or cup of coffee. All of this takes a toll. Dion Dwyer: You lose about 25
years off your lifespan by just being on
the streets of Sacramento. Narrator: Moody is what
the system describes as chronically homeless.
He has had help. Dion Dwyer and the Downtown
Partnership have taken him in several times, but Moody
is the type who won’t stay. Chronic cases like
him make up roughly one third of
Sacramento’s homeless. Long-term, they rarely
get off the streets. Daniel Hahn: If we don’t
address the drug and mental health issues,
housing’s not going to make a difference with
that population. Narrator: The other issue
with homelessness, public health. When people live on the
street, it’s bad for them and bad for everyone else. Early mornings,
the Downtown Partnership tries to stay
ahead of the filth. They wash sidewalks and
alleyways, cleaning, scrubbing, picking up trash,
but they cannot clean away the accidents, the murders,
and the suicides as Sacramento’s homeless
death toll soars. Dave Elliott: A lot of
times it’s from drug and alcohol overdoses. Sometimes it’s just
from being homeless. People give up hope. Darrell Steinberg: Cities
this year are going to get $275 million of new
resources to build low barrier triage shelters to bring
people off the streets. Narrator: And put them
in places like this. The Capital Park Hotel in
downtown Sacramento provides 180 beds and a staff
dedicated to helping people navigate their issues.
It’s not an ultimate destination,
more like a transition portal between the streets and
permanent housing. Darrell Steinberg: Most
chronic homeless people with serious mental illnesses and
substance abuse disorders cannot go from the
riverbanks and the streets into permanent housing
without a bridge, without that intensive triage
shelter with the services and the assessment, to make
sure that they are ready to move on to a longer
term housing situation. Narrator: That’s because
the streets are rough. No one knows better than
Dave Elliot from the non-profit Sacramento
Steps Forward. At Ahern, he chances upon a 24 year old
former foster child. Her name is Amatsa
Yashrahiya. Those cuts on both of her
arms testify to years of incomprehensible
suffering. Amatsa Y.: I used to
self harm as a child. Narrator: Foster youth run a
high risk for homelessness. Same for LGBTQ people,
veterans, and those living with mental and
physical illness. The sadness is as widespread
as the frustration. Mitch Rohrer: I don’t know
that they’re doing something that’s effective, because
again, the results are in. We just seem to have more
and more of these people in our city and state. Narrator: As a homeowner,
Mitch says he’s fed up, and here’s another
reason why. On this vacant lot, not far
from his home in Land Park, the city is putting
up a 100 bed low barrier triage shelter. Mitch Rohrer: It seems that
our mayor and the city council, not all of them,
want to open up small little boutique
shelters, if you will. Very expensive in many
cases, and apparently the results haven’t been
that good either. Narrator: But studies show
that for shelters to be most effective, they
need to go up where the homeless already live. This keeps them connected
to services, especially medical. Sandy Sharon: For most
homeless people, their access to care is through
the emergency room. Narrator: And hospitals
want to change that. Kaiser, Sutter, UC Davis,
Dignity Health. They’ve all begun collaborating
towards solutions. Sandy Sharon: All four
health systems have come together and provided the
funding for a program, Intermediate Care Program,
or ICP. If someone is discharged from the
hospital, we have beds and housing that we can, that
are provided through ICP where the individual can
receive ongoing care. Narrator: In 2014, Dignity
Health launched a separate pilot project. Ashley Brand: In partnership
with Lutheran Social Services, we created the program
Housing With Dignity. Narrator: Kory Baker, a
single mom with three kids, is an example of
Dignity’s success. Her trip into homelessness
began with a car that broke down that kept
her from working. That led to the family
becoming destitute. Kory Baker: When the weather
was like 20 some degrees, my son and I and our dog were
living outside, and that, and it was really
unbelievable. Narrator: And then, when
it seemed that Kory’s life could not get much worse,
severe pain sent her to the emergency room. Kory Baker: I had stage four
cancer, with 20% chance to live. Narrator: In the hospital,
Kory’s life hit rock bottom. That’s when Dignity
stepped in and began turning her life around. While the hospital provided
treatment, Lutheran Social Services
gave Kory an apartment. Kory Baker: I didn’t even
pay rent and they said, “We just want you to worry
about getting better. That’s it.” Narrator: Today,
Kory is cancer free. She and her kids have a new
home, and now that Kory has a car,
she’s working again. Narrator: That is one
success story but still, unfortunately, it
is an exception. In Sacramento, homelessness
continues to strongarm so many others, including
hundreds of people living along the American
River Parkway. Randy Van Dusen: It’s
very difficult. Being homeless
is not a crime. Narrator: From the Sacramento
Police Department’s helicopter, Sergeant
Randy Van Dusen oversees some of
those encampments. Randy Van Dusen: This is
actually looking pretty nice right now as far
as cleanliness. Narrator: From the air, tents
are fairly easy to spot. On the ground, they’re
impossible to miss. Bryant Ortega. When a
teenager goes to prison, he often ends up in
a place like this. Former inmates are
10 times more likely to become homeless. In many cases, they lack job
skills or family support. Bryant Ortega: This is
how I live right now. Narrator: If you look
around, it becomes obvious that without the luxury of
basic medical care, homeless people often get
serious diseases that go untreated.
That happened to Bryant. Bryant Ortega: I got
liver cancer. Narrator: The river is
another area that outreach worker Dave Elliott
visits frequently. When he sees Bryant, they
connect immediately. Bryant Ortega: What I want
for myself is to get better. Narrator: The American River
Parkway used to be a popular attraction for families,
but the growing presence of homeless people has
begun to keep them away. Randy Van Dusen: They’re just
tucked in the trees, tents. Narrator: Testing of river
water shows high levels of E. Coli, a sign of
fecal contamination. As the homeless
population grows, so does the health hazard. Randy Van Dusen: You know, our
impact team does a good job, at least knowing our
homeless subjects that are out there, and checking
in with them a lot. Narrator: And sometimes,
they get people out. Kimberly Doss now lives in a
county transitional shelter. It is a start, but even
here, she has so much to work through. Kimberly Doss: The pain
and, I don’t know… Okay, hold on. Narrator: This large home is
what social workers call a low barrier scattered
site housing model. The county rents houses and
helps people transition back into normal life. Kimberly Doss: I want to
show by example that there is a second chance.
There is hope. Patrick Cornell: Over
here is 2040 Railroad. This is where we
had the shelter. Narrator: He’s talking
in past-tense about Railroad Drive, as they called
it, which sits directly across from the river. For 17 months, this
converted warehouse served hundreds of people, then
it ran out of funding and closed but not before
providing yet another possible shelter model. Darrell Steinberg: Our low
barrier triage approach, like what we did on
Railroad Avenue, we got hundreds of people into
longer term housing. Narrator: The shelter gave
outreach workers, like Patrick Cornell from
Sacramento Covered, a place to take people. Among them, Anthony Moss
and Ramona Jasper. They’d been hunkered in down
at the river for years. Anthony Moss: We came
from right down there. I mean I had a
big large tent, a generator chained up. Ramona Jasper: That
was our home for… Anthony Moss: Refrigerator,
I mean, it was home. Narrator: Because of their
relative comforts, the couple resisted
Patrick’s offers to help. Ramona doesn’t like crowded
spaces, she said, but Patrick kept after them. Patrick Cornell: And they
kept seeing others getting housed, to where they said,
“Hey, that thing that you offered us before,
the shared housing? We want to do that.” And I
said, “Good, because we got a good spot coming up.”
And their whole entire life has changed. Narrator: One year and three
months later, Ramona finally found it within herself to
return to the river, then the same place that once
gave her comfort haunted her. Ramona Jasper: It’s
just really emotional. Narrator: In a city teeming
with so much homeless hopelessness,
Ramona and Anthony represent a success story, what
might be, if. It has been a journey,
from the river, to a shelter, to a place
they now call home. Ramona Jasper: We came from
Railroad Drive to this house. Patrick Cornell: This right
here is a positive outcome of two individuals that
at first were like going, “Wait a minute.” Narrator: Now when the
couple cooks breakfast, it’s on a real stove
and eaten at their own dining room table. Ramona Jasper: This is
my home. My own personal home.
I love it. Narrator: Ramona and Anthony
have running water, a mailbox, they pay bills, and
most importantly, they feel safe. Anthony Moss: The difference
in zipping up at the end of the night to secure
yourself, or turning the key with the deadbolt. Narrator: Homeless advocates
say Ramona and Anthony are survivors, proof that
the system can work. Patrick Cornell: We are
survivors. We are people that believed in this system. We didn’t at first
but we do now. Darrell Steinberg: The
challenge now is to take what we have seen works
and to bring it to scale. Narrator: But how? Patrick Cornell: I know that
there’s something greater than all that we’re
doing right now and that’s my hope. Narrator: That remains the
complex question for so many still out there among
the nearly 6,000. Struggling to survive,
fighting off despair, searching for hope. Annc: What would you
like the power to do? At Bank of America, listening
to how people answer this question is how we learn how
we can lend, invest, give and volunteer to ensure the
Sacramento region remains vibrant and vital. Bank of America is proud to
support public television. Annc: Brought to
you by Kaiser Permanente, advancing our mission to
improve the health of our members and the
communities we serve. ♪♪

3 Comments on "Searching for Hope: Homeless in Sacramento"

  1. I shut down IMMEDIATELY when I hear the word "Folks". Especially when they talk through their nostrils.

    And regarding "The central factor is mental health", its a chicken and egg scenario. Are SOME mentally ill because they are homeless, or are they homeless because they are mentally ill? Not all of US are mentally ill, nor become mentally ill. We are not "folks", a "population", "these people", "issues", or a "demographic". We are Joanne, William, Paul, Linda, James, Michael, and Tonya. Look us in the eye, and speak to us.


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