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Schwarzenegger Promises To Help Tent City

Carol Carlile walks to her tent in a homeless encampment known as "Tent City," in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, March 19, 2009. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have vowed to work together to provide assistance to the Tent City residents.
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
California will help Sacramento officials relocate about 150 people from a homeless encampment that put the city in the international spotlight, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday.

The governor said he will try to find state money and suggested he would provide assistance for other cities struggling with chronic homeless problems.

Schwarzenegger said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson approached him at a public function to talk about homelessness. He later accompanied the mayor on a visit to the so-called "tent city," which sits along the banks of the American River about one mile northeast of the state Capitol.

"I told him, I promised him right off the top, without really knowing yet the whole issue and what we can do, I said, 'I will be 100 percent behind you,"' the governor said during a Wednesday news conference. "So yes, we want to help as much as we can, anyone in any city."

The governor's appearance Wednesday with the mayor at the state fairgrounds came a day after the Sacramento City Council approved Johnson's proposal to relocate residents of the homeless camp.

Johnson wants to add 50 beds and keep open through the end of June a shelter at the fairgrounds that is run by Volunteers of America. Schwarzenegger said state officials are helping with the transition.

The city has located places for 100 others at local shelters and through longer-term housing units. It hopes to close the encampment by the end of April.

Johnson's relocation plan is estimated to cost about $1 million.

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 of the reports 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.

Homeless advocates in the city paint a far different picture. They say the encampment has been there for years and is 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.

Tracking the number of homeless is difficult, but the federal Housing and Urban Development Department estimated California had a homeless population of about 160,000 in 2007. Advocates say the number has likely grown as the economy has declined.

Schwarzenegger said he hand-delivered a letter to President Barack Obama last week asking him to accelerate money from the federal stimulus package to help address homelessness in California. The letter said the state expects to receive $180 million for that purpose, about $2.4 million of it destined for Sacramento.

Still, Schwarzenegger acknowledged that homelessness is a chronic problem nationwide and "no one really has found the sweet spot yet" for a permanent solution.