Tent cities pop up in area hard hit by economy

March 10, 2009 7:11:53 PM PDT
It is the sad reality of a California city hit hard by foreclosures and huge job losses. In the shadow of downtown Sacramento, tent cities have sprung up, housing as many as 1,200 people.

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"I just try to keep the peace, organized, make sure everybody eats," Rico Morales said. Morales is the defacto mayor of one of the tent cities.

Many of the homeless here do not fit the stereotype of homelessness. Many had good jobs and stable family lives until the economy spun out of control.

Now the real mayor, former NBA star, Kevin Johnson, is thinking about sanctioning the tent cities, essentially legally zoning them. With a $50 million dollar deficit, the city cannot afford to expand services.

"Our shelters have seen an increase, four-fold, there are not enough shelters, and I believe as a city, we need to look at every option, and tent cities are something we should consider," Johnson said.

For the most part police are looking the other way, which may be one reason the tent cities have grown so quickly.

Neighbors close by would like to see more enforcement of zoning laws.

"I have constituent neighbors that live there that are terrorized by these people day and night," Sacramento city councilman Ray Tretheway said.

Tent city residents say they do not want to live this way, but with nowhere else to go and no jobs to get, they say providing land where police wouldn't harass them would help their already difficult life.

"That's a big thing, we don't like rolling up everything that we put out and having to find another spot, only to get messed with the next day," tent city resident Daniel Thomas said.

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