The Council Chambers at Folsom’s City Hall were standing room only Tuesday night for the regular meeting of Folsom City Council that included a public workshop on homelessness in the City of Folsom. 

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 Several organizations that assist with the issue of Homelessness across the region participated in the event and 29 members of the community took to the podium to air their thoughts on Folsom’s Homeless situation. 

While many of the speakers were there to share their negative experiences with the increase in homelessness in the area or spoke in regards to their concern for safety, many referencing as such following the stabbing that involved members of the homeless community that took place at a popular Folsom park earlier this month, others noting the increase in other crimes across the city as the local police department is understaffed and stretched thin, often pulled away from being on patrol to respond to a homeless related call in the community. 

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The scheduled event was “informational only,” and was not an action item on the agenda.  Folsom City Manager Elaine Andersen opened the meeting explaining as such. 

“This is to educated our City Council and the community on homelessness, this is not an action item and no action is requested or will be taken by city council on this item,” said Andersen as she opened the workshop. “Homelessness is a complex, complicated issue that is not easily solved. If it were easily solved, cities and counties up and down California would already be neatly checking the boxes.”

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Prior to the many presentations and speakers from the community, City of Folsom City Attorney took to the microphone to clarify homelessness and how it is often perceived as a crime. “Being homeless is not illegal,” said Wang, who explained how the city of Folsom is limited to what it can enforce by recent laws implemented that limits their ability of cities of and counties to enforce ordinances when it comes to camping city spaces and various areas.

Wang assured the public, and council that the Folsom Police Department and the City’s Code Enforcement Officers continue to exercise full enforcement authority with respect to illegal activities not constrained by the courts ruling. He also assured that local law enforcement works to assist the public to address the homeless issues with great care and sensitivity. 

Folsom Police Chief Rick Hillman was the first presenter of the evening. Hillman stepped up to the microphone and took attendees through data collected by Lt. Chris Emery, the manager of the department’s neighborhood services division. 

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“Homeless is a complex and controversial issue,” said Hillman.  “Police are often the first to respond to a call involving people experiencing homelessness which can include fights, disturbances, encampments and people experiencing a mental health crisis.  Police are not social workers or housing providers and we are not equipped to address the root causes of homelessness. As a result, our interactions with individuals experiencing homelessness can often be difficult or stressful for both parties.  We are fortunate to partner with the Sacramento County Health Department and many community groups that help with that. Unfortunately, many do not take advantage of those services offered.”

Hillman allowed Emery to take the microphone and present the latest crime statistics in Folsom and those involving homelessness. 

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Emery shared data from the latest Sacramento Steps Forward Point in Time Count 2022, that listed 9,278 homeless individuals in Sacramento County. 2,614 of those were sheltered, 6,664 were unsheltered. He noted that this is up 67 percent since 2019. While the department does not officially track homeless counts, Emery said the department estimated that the city has an average of 50-75 homeless individuals in the city limits, however, many are not considered to be permanent to the area as they travel to others. 

“They come to Folsom because they feel it’s safe here,” said Emery. “Others say they come here because they can charge their devices, we are taking steps to turn off those power sources and we are working with other areas around the city to make sure those outdoor power sources in our public areas are turned off when there are not events taking place to address that.’

Between January 1, 2023 and September 15, 2023, the Folsom Police Department has responded to 30,228 calls for service.  Just over 2,100 of those calls involved people experiencing homelessness, according to the department’s data. 

Out of the calls involving homeless individuals, 31% were trespassing 16% were classified as a disturbance, 13% were location checks, 12% were welfare checks and 6% were considered suspicious circumstances.  An average of 17 minutes was spent on each of those calls. 

Currently the Police Department’s Community Crime Suppression unit is staffed with 1.5 officers and a Sergeant. With attention being diverted to homeless issues, often times the department is unable to properly patrol the city, opening the opportunity for many other types of crimes. 

“The City of Folsom is experiencing an increase in organized retail theft. Criminal rings are coming to our city and stealing tens of thousands of dollars of good often in one single incident,” said Emery. “The Community Crime Suppression Unit has not been able to focus on these issues as they are consistently being towards camps and other homeless problems.”

Emery was joined by the city Code Enforcement Officer Pete Piccardo. Piccardo oversees the response to camps, hazards and more that require attention and clean up. 

According to Piccardo, the need for camp clean ups in the city has doubled in the past 10 years. In the past three months alone, Code Enforcement has cleaned over 40 encampments across the city of Folsom.  Piccardo estimates the daily clean-up costs range from $800 to $1,000 per site depending on the amount of debris extracted. 

Councilmember Anna Rohrbough asked Hillman what resources his department needs to address the increased crime and uptick in homelessness. 

“It comes down to our staffing levels,” said Hillman. “We are needing to the put people (officers) in the appropriate places in our city. We need people to patrol our city and respond to the active calls that go on each day, so we need minimum staffing on officers, detectives, we need traffic officers. Currently we spread out our department out and try to cover every area that we can with the staffing we have. 

Hillman noted that the department currently has 5 people in training and a plan in place as they come out of training. Previously, he requested eight officers in the newly approved budget and two Community Service Officers. Amidst current budget woes, the city was able to approve one full officer and community service officer.  

“I don’t know if it would be enough to completely tackle the issue,” said Hillman, when asked if his requested 8 officers would have helped in the recent uptick. “Looking at our staffing and our calls, we have determined that eight more officers would have certainly helped in our situations.”

Brian Martell was one of the many residents who shared his thoughts at the workshop. Martell is a lifelong Folsom resident and realtor. 

“I applaud the help that is out there, but how do we deal with the bigger issue,” said Martell. “I am in the real estate business and why do people want to move to Folsom?  It’s sense of community, our schools, fire, police, low crime rate.  We are at a tipping point right now.

Martell shared an incident with a home he was about to move into. Just days before his family took residence, a homeless individual had moved in. Martell pointed out that it was due to the police involvement and the laws at the time that the issue was resolved.

“Within minutes PD showed up, arrested him, our district attorney pressed charges and he spent four months in jail and paid restitution.  That’s the punishment we need for someone breaking the law.  Our solution is those guys and gals in blue. They are working their butts off. Our budget is short so we can’t fund them the money they need to get the resource officers on the streets.”

Martell suggested that the city should consider a bond measure to assist with funding the police to proper resources to combat the problem. 

“We need to have a bond measure to fund that so we can get the support that we need for the police officers,” said Martell. “Look what’s happening in Sacramento, per capita the highest homeless rate in the country. Jack Kipp our late mayor once said if we build Light Rail, we are going to destroy our city. That is what’s happening. We as a community can position bond measure to get that support.”n

During the workshop, Rodriguez urged Martell and other speakers to consider attending upcoming council meetings as the city will being to discuss sales tax issues and other such topics that could play a future role and funding areas.

Folsom resident and business owner Jackie Sellitti shared her thoughts on the homeless issued. She has been a Folsom resident for 30 years, owns a home, two commercial buildings and a business on Natoma Street. 

“My husband and I have contemplated selling everything and leaving Folsom specifically due to this issue,” said Sellitti. “We now have to keep our business locked during business hours and book by appointment only. This is costing us money and the safety of the people we work with. The other day there was a stabbing by two homeless people, these two people have a problem and the temperament to inflict attempted murder or harm. I have personally seen too many violent and illegal behaviors by our homeless to list. There are laws that protect them, there are also laws to protect us.”

Judy Collinsworth is the Executive Director of Folsom’s Historic District Association. Collinsworth spoke to the fact that there have been incidents over the recent years that concerns business owners. She referenced openly smoking marijuana, drinking in public, living in restrooms, being nude in public and even assaulting merchants and threatening visitors to the district with no consequences for those involved.

Folsom resident Judy Alexander wants to see the city do more to lay out a plan to combat the homeless issues and less responsibility put on the police department. 

“Our Folsom Police Department is fabulous, it’s very small but fabulous,” said Alexander. “I don’t believe that the police department is the right place for leadership when it comes to this issue. They have a role to play they are law enforcement, they are on the street so they see people, they interact with people so they play that role. I am looking to the city council and staff…you guys are the ones that are tasked with helping solve this problem. 

This is not the police department’s problem it’s the city’s problem. The city residents, in my opinion, are not getting a clear idea what you folks plan do, want to do, want to focus on, how you’re going to do it. It’s not coming across. We need a plan, you folks are the ones to come up with that plan. We can be creative and be focused on this as a community when we can see and hear what you’re doing about it and we can support it.”

Folsom Times followed up with Folsom Mayor Rosario Rodriguez in regards to the large attendance of the workshop and possible next steps the city may take in response to the concerns expressed by residents and the police department. 

Rodriguez reiterated the information shared by Anderson in that the workshop did not have an action attached to it at this time and was designed to strictly be informative.

“There was no direction to staff because it was an informative presentation,” she said. “As we’re headed into a deeper recession, we can’t add more police to a budget that doesn’t have any wiggle room.”

Tuesday’s workshop went late into Tuesday night with great presentations from all of the local non profits that are working with the city to help with the issues of homelessness and residents airing their concerns and suggestions for city leaders to consider. To see the entire workshop and hear more comments from residents and presenters visit the full meeting VIDEO BY CLICKING HERE.

Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan