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City making a difference in homeless issue, says police chief

By: Steve Archer, Reporter
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Lincoln Police Chief Doug Lee said Wednesday the city is making a difference in the local homeless population with a combined effort from his department, Placer County and a Roseville emergency shelter.

A monthly meeting of Operation Make a Difference is just one of the joint efforts Lee takes part in. The group is made up of representatives of the Lincoln City Council, the police department, city manager, city attorney, code enforcement, Placer County Health and Human Services, the St. Vincent DePaul Society, The Salt Mine and the Gathering Inn.

“In some ways, we are making a difference,” Lee said. “Placer County Health and Human Services has helped place several homeless individuals in housing. Working together, we have stayed on top of the illegal camps, which is vital to the long-term preservation and safety of the Auburn Ravine.”

“The Auburn Ravine is the most popular place to camp,” Lee added. “Unfortunately, I am not confident that we will ever get through to a majority of our homeless individuals. Many people are quick to look to law enforcement as a solution but the reality is that we are just one piece of this complex puzzle. We can address public-safety issues but we can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”

Many of the homeless have issues that contribute to their situation, according to Lee.

“An overwhelming majority have either mental health issues and/or drug or alcohol addiction,” Lee said. “While the cost of housing may prevent some individuals from obtaining housing, we don’t often encounter anyone who is on the streets of Lincoln because they were evicted or foreclosed on.”

Although the city has an agreement with the Gathering Inn in Roseville to provide shelter services, the homeless rarely accept the ride to the shelter.

“Often, it’s because the shelters do not allow pets and they require the guests to be (drug-free) and sober,” Lee said. “Occasionally we take personnel from Placer County Health and Human Services with us to inform the transients of the programs available to them. It is my understanding that few, if any, avail themselves of these services. It is our practice to offer services to those we encounter.”

If his department had the manpower, Lee said,  it could comb the entire Auburn Ravine at once and “likely discover at least 10 illegal camps.

“The camps come and go. When we find an illegal camp, we post it and they have 72 hours to vacate and clear the premises,” Lee said. “After a minimum of 72 hours has passed, we can go in and clean up the camp. Typically, we find nothing of value, just a whole lot of garbage. It is amazing how much garbage they can accumulate and dump in one place in a short period of time.”

When clearing the camps, Lee said, his department is usually accompanied by Department of Public Works staff or a private landscape contractor to help haul away the garbage.

Lee said his department deals with a group of 50 to 70 homeless on a regular basis, a majority of who have been in Lincoln a long time and many are from Lincoln.

“As a result, this is where they are comfortable,” Lee said. “Some of them are able to sleep on the couch or in the garage of a friend or relative from time to time, so they stay in the area.”