Pocket avoids problems seen elsewhere
By R.E. Graswich
No Sacramento neighborhood is perfect, but the Pocket and Greenhaven community comes close. There are abundant shops, services and globally flavored restaurants, three supermarkets, churches, housing opportunities for most budgets, miles of bikeways and expansive, manicured parks.
While other prime neighborhoods such as Land Park, Midtown and East Sacramento struggle with increasing numbers of homeless people and campgrounds, Pocket and Greenhaven generally avoid challenges that come from playing host to unsheltered community members.
After hearing from a few Pocket residents that homeless numbers seemed to be growing in the community, especially along the river, I checked with Sacramento Police to learn what data and street experience revealed.
I’m happy to report the evidence shows that while homelessness is sadly a growth industry in Sacramento, Pocket and Greenhaven have not seen a significant uptick in campsites and problems that impact the quality of life for residents, such as drug sales and burglaries.
“I would say that area has been the least impacted,” Police Captain Justin Risley says of Pocket and Greenhaven. “We don’t have any data that indicates it’s getting significantly worse.”
These days, when police receive complaints about a homeless camp, there’s not much they can do. County heath orders established early in the pandemic discourage authorities from pushing people out of homeless campsites.
“Do not cite, clear, or relocate encampments, or cars, RV’s, and trailers used as shelter during community spread of COVID-19,” the order directs law enforcement. Health officials fear moving homeless people can heighten virus spread and cause homeless people to lose connections with service providers.
“There are a couple of exceptions, such as moving people off the levee when their presence creates a safety hazard, or moving camps from under a train bridge where fires have broken out,” Risley says. “But the pandemic has made the whole process more difficult. The intent is not to spread the disease by moving people.”
Before the pandemic, a few residents in Pocket and Greenhaven near the Sacramento River complained to me about seeing increased numbers of homeless people along the levee. They suggested the south levee area was on its way to becoming as blighted as sections of the lower American River Parkway, where homeless camps have existed for decades.
But the alleged influx of unsheltered people along the Sacramento River Parkway is mostly a fiction. Homeless numbers have always been small and isolated in Pocket and Greenhaven.
Homeless campsites have been discovered along the river as far south as the Freeport Water Intake Facility near Bill Conlin park. But such camps are rare and transitory compared to other areas in the city.
Unlike the American River Parkway, which runs near the city’s North 12th Street skid row and River District homeless shelters and support centers, the south levee area in Pocket and Greenhaven has no facilities to attract and assist homeless people. There’s no beneficial reason for homeless people to camp in Pocket and Greenhaven.
“If you’re the person with a camp in your backyard, yes, it’s bad,” Risley says. “And if someone is camping on your private property and you’re willing to sign a citizen’s arrest complaint, yes, we can take action. But primarily what we try to do is align people with the proper services.”
Aside from the pandemic restrictions, police are changing the way they handle homeless service calls—treating unsheltered people as a social or mental health concern rather than a law enforcement problem.
And in the realm of property and violent crimes, Pocket and Greenhaven stand out as relative islands of safety.
Statistics from late 2020 show burglary, larceny, vehicle theft and overall property crime down from 2019. Robbery, assault and violent crimes also trended lower. Three rapes had been reported in Pocket and Greenhaven by the third quarter of 2020, as opposed to one in 2019. There have been no murders in at least four years.
Pocket and Greenhaven have long been regarded as the safest neighborhoods in Sacramento. So far, the trend is holding.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.