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Homeless camp trash riles neighbor

There are different types of homeless, pastor says
By: Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor
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Auburn resident Aaron Campbell was upset Tuesday when he went to take out the trash and saw something ugly floating in the creek that runs next to his condominium complex. “I saw a syringe floating down the stream,” Campbell said. Campbell’s residence sits off Rock Creek Road in Auburn, just behind the Target on Bell Road and across the street from a well-used homeless camp. He’s walked over to the marshy land several times to see abandoned mattresses, trash bins filled with copper wire and filled prescription bottles littered on the ground or in the creek. “I’m sick of the garbage,” Campbell said Tuesday. “I’m not sick of seeing homeless. We all have our plight but you don’t have the right to dump garbage.” Those who work closely with Auburn’s homeless population said abandoned encampments and trash do come with the transient territory. But they also caution that not all homeless people cause strife or litter in the community. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, located across from the Rock Creek Road homeless camp, offers free meals, showers, clothing and sleeping bags to homeless every Tuesday. They also feed them breakfast on Saturdays. Dan Appel, the church’s pastor, said most homeless people can be classified in four different categories. There is a group who enjoy living in the open. They may have jobs but choose to camp outside and keep their surroundings clean. Another contingent is the occasional or “on/off” homeless who do not have any strong skills and who find housing and work based on the state of the economy. A third group consists of those who are the “new homeless” or homeless due to misfortune, Appel said. It usually includes men and women who have lost everything and are hanging on by sleeping in their cars. The fourth group Appel said is “feral homeless.” He said typically homeless in this category are drug or alcohol addicts and/or have severe mental health problems. Sex offenders are also lumped into this group because it can be hard for them to find a place to live. “They become animals,” Appel said. “They live from one drug fix or bottle of booze to another.” Appel said while this group only represents about 10 to 20 percent of the Auburn homeless population, they are the ones who stand out the most among the community. “They’re the ones who give everyone else a bad name and make it difficult,” Appel said. Appel said the church does try to hold those who abuse the system accountable while still being charitable. “Places that truly care have to balance compassion and accountability,” Appel said. “You need accountability so you don’t become cynical.” A homeless man who only identified himself as Roger spoke with the Journal outside Placer County’s Welcome Center in Auburn Tuesday. Roger also said that it’s usually a small group who don’t clean up after themselves who give other homeless a bad name. Roger said he sleeps in a small tent and he and others try to keep a low profile. “We try and stay out of the sight of police,” Roger said. “They don’t like us anywhere. In the past month and a half I’ve had to move my campsite three times.” Roger said when he and others chance upon abandoned campsites, they usually pick up the trash. “I understand we’re trespassing,” Roger said. “Although we’re doing no harm and do good because we’re cleaning up everything, I understand they can’t let us stay. But we have no else place to go.” Placer County Sheriff’s Office deputies do regularly patrol the Rock Creek Road camp and tell homeless campers to move on on a daily basis, said Dena Erwin, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office. John Ruffcorn, captain of the Auburn Police Department, estimated that police officers use about 10 percent of their time a year interacting with homeless men and women. He said typically a business owner calls police and asks for help moving a panhandler away from their storefront. Ruffcorn said there are public health and safety issues associated with homeless camps but that it’s a community wide problem that needs a community-oriented solution. On the Police Department’s part, they are working with the Sheriff’s Office and nonprofit groups to draft an ordinance addressing panhandling problems. “It’s a growing problem,” Ruffcorn said. “There is no easy solution to the issue. But it’s going to take a community, not just an entity like the Police Department, to solve the issue.” Reach Jenifer Gee at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com.