The mayor of California’s state capital unveiled plans on Thursday to shut down a sprawling “tent city” of the homeless that has drawn worldwide media attention as a symbol of U.S. economic decline.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson promised to first make alternative shelter space available for the estimated 150 men and women who inhabit the squalid encampment near the American River, at the edge of the city’s downtown.
Johnson, who toured the area with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger a day earlier, said he hoped to have the ramshackle settlement cleared of tents and debris in the next two to three weeks.
“We want to move as quickly as we can,” he told a news conference, insisting the city was determined to treat the tent dwellers with compassion.
“They are people out there. We have to do whatever we can do,” he said. “We as a city are not going to shy away from it. We’re going to tackle it head-on.”
Advocates for the homeless applauded the mayor’s action. Municipal authorities in Sacramento have been debating the fate of the tent city for weeks.
Sacramento has one of the highest mortgage foreclosure rates in the United States, and the homeless total in the city and surrounding county is estimated to have jumped nearly 10 percent last year to nearly 2,700. About half are believed to be living outdoors, according to a local survey.