Sacramento OKs Plan to Close 'Tent City'

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday he would try to find state money to help city officials relocate about 150 people from a homeless encampment that put California's capital in the international spotlight.

The governor said he had promised to help Mayor Kevin Johnson deal with the city's homelessness "without really knowing yet the whole issue and what we can do," but told Johnson: "I will be 100 percent behind you."

Schwarzenegger visited the state fairgrounds with Johnson on Wednesday, a day after the City Council approved Johnson's proposal for those at the so-called "tent city," which sits along the banks of the American River about one mile northeast of the state Capitol.

"Together with the local government and volunteers, we are taking a first step to ensure the people living in tent city have a safe place to stay, with fresh water, healthy conditions and access to the services they need," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "And I am committed to working with Mayor Johnson to find a permanent solution for those living in tent city."

The plan includes adding 50 beds to a shelter run by Volunteers of America on the fairgrounds. The shelter, which was supposed to close in the spring, will now stay open through the end of June, and the city also has located places for the 100 other residents at local shelters and in longer-term housing units.

The proposal, which is estimated to cost about $1 million, aims to close the encampment by the end of April.

Media outlets from around the world visited the collection of tents and tarpaulins after it was featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" last month. Many inaccurately portrayed the camp as home to a thousand or more refugees of the recession, forced to live outdoors after losing their jobs and savings.

But homeless advocates said the encampment had been there for years and was home to about 150 people, most of whom are part of the city's chronic homeless population.

Sacramento, a city of 476,000, had an estimated 2,700 homeless people last year. California does not track the number of homeless statewide, but the federal Housing and Urban Development Department estimated the state had a homeless population of about 160,000 in 2007. It reported that about 43 percent of that number lived in Los Angeles County.

Schwarzenegger said Wednesday that homelessness is a chronic problem nationwide and "no one really has found the sweet spot yet" for a permanent solution. He said he delivered a letter to President Barack Obama last week asking him to accelerate $180 million from the federal stimulus package to help address homelessness in California. Sacramento was expected to receive $2.4 million.