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Update: Sacramento police arrest 17 at ‘safe ground’ homeless camp
By Li Lou and Cynthia Hubert
Published: Friday, Sep. 4, 2009 – 9:05 am
Last Modified: Friday, Sep. 4, 2009 – 1:34 pm
Sacramento police arrested 17 homeless residents at their “safe ground” campsite this morning, including one advocate for the homeless.
Rev. David Moss, a Methodist Minister, was taken into custody along with other campers, charged with illegal camping, Sacramento police Sgt. Norm Leong said.
A press release by Loaves & Fishes early morning claimed Sister Libby Fernandez, executive director of the Loaves & Fishes homeless services group, was arrested together with other campers. But later Sacramento police clarified that she was only detained for a short period when police arrived to search the camp.
Only those who had been previously cited for illegal camping and who police have evidence to show for having camped there for more than 24 hours were taken into custody, police said.
Sacramento police said they were responding to complaints from neighbors, including an elderly man whose house is adjacent to the site. The man, Pedro Hernandez, 71, has told The Bee that campers have insulted him, left trash in the area and generally disrupted his life.
Fernandez said she has slept at the site periodically but never in the presence of officers. She said that she and others plan to continue to occupy the property until the city stops issuing ordinances and establishes a legal camping site with basic services such as running water and garbage pickup.
“They want to stand tall and bring this to court for a solution,” said Fernandez.
“We know that making an arrest is not a solution for the homeless issue,” Leong said. “But we have to enforce the city ordinance, to protect the rights of the neighboring residents and businesses.”
Leong said those who were arrested were taken to the Sacramento County Jail and will be booked and probably released later in the day.
Joan Burke, advocacy director for Loaves and Fishes, was present during the arrests and characterized the scene as “very sad.”
“They are arresting a nun and a minister who are here to help poor people,” Burke said. “They are arresting people whose crime’ is being poor.”
Officers arrived at the campsite about 7:30 a.m.
The action followed a police search early Wednesday, when officers cut a lock, walked onto the C Street property and issued citations for illegal camping. They also seized 32 tents, sleeping bags, cots and other items as evidence. The property is owned by Attorney Mark Merin, who had given permission for campers to live at the site.
Civil rights and religious leaders, business people and others who support the campers were planning their strategy following Wednesday’s citations. One plan is to challenge in court a city ordinance that prevents people from camping in non-designated areas for more than 24 hours at a time.
However, Hernandez, who lives next to the homeless camp, earlier told The Bee that the campers have caused him problems.
“I have had vertigo in the last few days,” said Hernandez in an earlier interview. He suffers from diabetes and heart problems. “My mind is filled with anger and resentment.”
Tuesday morning, he was jarred by the sound of his new neighbors hurling curse words, Hernandez told The Bee. “They yelled vile words,” Hernandez said. “When they saw me, they quieted down.”