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Environmental Nonprofit Calls For Cleanup Of Homeless Along American River Parkway As Fire Season Approaches

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — There is a new call to clear out the homeless to prevent fires along the American River Parkway.

According to the environmental nonprofit The Sierra Club, the two issues go hand in hand. And now, it's calling on the city and county to take some bold steps—and fast.

The Sierra Club says fires have tripled along the parkway in the last three years, and with fire season knocking on our door, they want the homeless moved out.

"We want more urgency in getting people off the river," said Barbara Leary, chairperson of the nonprofit's Sacramento chapter.

Leary added, "I'm also afraid we're going to see more people dying along the river."

The environmental non-profit is behind a new report that shows the parkway saw 156 fires last year. That is three times the number it saw in 2019.

The majority of the fires have occurred on the north side of the river where a large number of camps are located.

"People are having to cook outdoors. In the winter, they're trying to make fires to keep themselves warm," Leary said. "There are people who are smoking, vaping and it's more concentrated around the camps."

The group suggests creating "safe zones" for the homeless with trailers, tents or shelters. County leaders say their goals align.

"Our goal and our job is to increase the sheltering capacity - both the quality of shelter beds and the variety of shelter beds," said Emily Halcon, the director of Homeless Initiatives in Sacramento County.

So far this year, the county has allocated $15 million to homeless services, and most recently, it approved using American Rescue Plan money for a 60-bed Salvation Army shelter. But officials say providing a permanent exit is still a sticking point.

"Even if everybody today said 'I want a shelter bed,' whether you're on the parkway or the city streets, or somewhere out in the unincorporated part of the county, there isn't enough shelter capacity," Halcon said.

With a formal response to the report in the works, the county says its next step is to vote on a "safe stay community" with 125 beds that will help free up space at shelters surrounding the parkway.

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