The Placer County Dewitt Center Homeless Camp is now open for summer shelter. Located close to essential services such as the Welcome Center, Food Stamps, Medical Assistance and Mental Health Substance Abuse Support programs, this homeless camp located in north Auburn has become a popular spot for Placer County residents with no permanent housing. But you should stake out your spot soon as homeless campsites under the tall shady trees located on the Dewitt Government Campus, next to the county administration building are going fast. (Picture gallery of camp sites at end of post)
Placer County homeless campground feels safe
One homeless woman camper told me that the campground felt safe. “We have a nice little community here where everyone watches out for one another”, she said. This sentiment was borne out by the number of homeless campers I talked to. Many had their dogs with them and a few were starting little gardens of flowers in discarded bins and coffee containers – a little color to brighten the landscape as the grass goes brown.
Homeless must meet county building codes
Another woman who was camped under a spreading mulberry tree told me the county had stopped by on Wednesday, May 20th, and told her she could not have a roof on her shelter structure. So just like a developer, the homeless have to make sure their camp sites are within Placer County codes. Not all campers are so fortunate to have a tent to keep them dry during spring rain showers. One man camping with his wife remarked that he would really like to see affordable or temporary housing for homeless folks that was co-ed because he had encountered so many couples at the homeless campground.
Services and work occupy the day time
Many of the campsites are folded up during the day as the campers seek assistance across the street at the various Placer County social services departments, seek employment or go to their job. The camping structures, with assorted accessories such as Bar-B-Ques, solar panels to charge batteries, and lanterns, have really blossomed in the spring of 2015. Placer County is in the process of opening an emergency homeless shelter about a half-mile away that is also on the DeWitt Center Government Campus. (Placer Supervisors approve homeless shelter pilot project) This new center will certainly be welcome on those cold, dark, and rainy nights when even the best tent and blankets will keep neither man nor beast warm.
Placer County’s history of homeless campers
All of the homeless people I talked to were friendly and welcoming. They don’t want trouble. They just want safe shelter. I was struck at how this homeless camp site was probably reminiscent to the camp sites the early gold miners would erect along the American River in 1849. From the memoir of a ‘49er who mined on the North Fork of the American River-
The tent we brought with us was sufficiently large for the newly formed mess, and we pitched it near to the base of the hill under the shade of two wide spreading oaks. The wagon cover which had been used as a substitute for a tent by our friends, we employed as a roof for our dining room, stretching it upon posts. A goodly camp fire is ever an essential for camp life; and Mr. Barclay’s sinewy arms applied to a sharp axe, were not long in felling a great pine tree, and from its trunk was severed a large back log, and another to sit upon, while very soon a splendid fire, hissing, cracking, sending up it volume of smoke and showering its sparks around, contributed to our cheer. – Experiences of a Forty-Niner by Wm. G. Johnston, pages 273 – 274.
Johnston and his campers left their campsite after one of their fellow miners died and the prospect of enduring cold winter rains seemed overwhelming. (see also: Searching for George Reppert’s Grave for more on Johnston’s mining experience). In a certain sense, the young men who travelled east in search of gold and set up mining camps up and down the American River were as homeless as the folks camping at the DeWitt Center. Both groups improvised shelter to survive.
Scratching out a living and existence
Unlike the miners of 1849, most homeless today, and in the Placer County park, have not chosen to be without shelter. The placer gold these homeless folks hope to find are some social services that will help them transition to permanent housing and lead a sustainable life. I think it is everyone’s hope that the compassion and wealth that resides in Placer County will enable our homeless campers to find safe and affordable shelter in the very near future before the rains come again.
Placer County homeless camp sites at the DeWitt Center, North Auburn
Pictured below are twenty-one of the make-shift homeless camp/tent sites on the ground of the DeWitt Government in an open field with large trees. There were probably another five homeless tents I did not snap a picture of. It was hard to count how many homeless people are camping at this site in Placer County because during the day they seek essential social services across the street or are out working to earn money. Some of the homeless campers do have vehicles that are in the adjacent parking lots. They bundle up their tents and belonging while they are away during the day.
Homeless Camp to Close August 6
According to the Auburn Journal, the Placer County Board of Supervisor passed an ordinance which will make it illegal to camp on the DeWitt Center grounds. [Homeless camp on its way out, Concern lingers over where the people will go By: Tricia Caspers-Ross, Reporter]. Supervisor Holmes expressed shock that people were bathing in the park and sometimes relieving themselves. The temporary homeless shelter should help with the bathing concerns and it would be pretty easy to place two porta-potties for day time use.
Supervisor Holmes was quoted as saying,
“We have never as a society figured out how to handle the mentally ill population,” Holmes said. Because of insurance or hospital policies, patients are released prematurely, and the burden goes back to the police, then to the jail, which becomes the de facto mental hospital.”
He must have short memory because we used to have half-way houses throughout California. [Ronald Reagan’s shameful legacy: Violence, the homeless, mental illness]. We know exactly how to house and care for individuals with chronic mental health challenges. Its just that some politicians don’t want to face the facts. They would rather build expensive jails than offer a compassionate alternative to street life.
August 6th update
By the afternoon of August 6th most of the homeless campers had moved off of the DeWitt park. Which means they were just pushed to some place else in the county. But because of the overnight homeless shelter that have toilets and showers, many homeless campers are likely to stay nearby to they can at least spend the night under a roof and get a shower occasionally.
Sacramento Bee story-> Placer County ordinance boots homeless camp from government property
(Click the thumbnails to enlarge.)