On the sidewalk, against the black wrought-iron gate and fence and on the dirt on the other side of the two-lane street, are where the Bannon Street Irregulars* sleep and rest and eat. And on the pavement itself is where they frolic, mostly at night. It's very dangerous for the Irregulars because the road is narrow and there's a sharp curve right where they congregate. Sometimes cars pass through the area at high speeds.
In the spring and summer, during my first months of homelessness, the Irregulars had bedding and their few belongings on the street in spots they maintained. The Irregulars, a constantly shifting, changing group of perhaps fifty street people look out for one another, for the most part, but there are also very frequent fights that break out. Some fights end with a fire engine and ambulance showing up on the street and then, maybe, a police car with an arrest occurring. Too, there are other passionate discussions that occur on the street that may end quietly or escalate into something more troublesome.
The great majority of the street people are men between the ages of 20 and 55. Between four and eight, at any given time, are women. A few of the people will have dogs; there are typically three or four dogs on leashes around, most of which are gentle pitbulls. The street person who is recognized as the leader is an older black man named Champ. He often nobly intervenes when passions are raw, but other times stays out of things.
Though dirt poor in accumulated assets, most of the Bannon Street Irregulars do get checks and have expenses. At the beginning of every month, or shortly thereafter, the Irregulars get their "happy checks." The sources of the checks can be SSI or SSDI or veterans benefits, or, sometimes, small short-term general-assistance payments from the welfare office. Also, many find what work they can to earn some money.
By sleeping on the street and getting food from various sources, the Irregulars are able to use large portions of what money they receive for fun or to numb their suffering on substances they are fond of or addicted to. Alcohol, weed, crack, crystal meth, speed or a wide variety of other substances are targets of addiction, in addition to tobacco which is commonly used in the form of roll-your-owns, known as rollies.
Early in a month the Irregulars get their checks. At that time, the availability of beds in the guest shelter in the mission free up such that we regular mission sleep guests have no trouble securing a bed. Usually before mid-month, after the Irregulars have spent their money, largely on short stays in motel rooms and on their substances of choice, beds become competitive again and some men who want one will have to stay out.
In late summer, the population of the Irregulars began to increase and their presence on the street became more pronounced. A man with several ramshackle vehicles made from steel fencing, grocery carts and bicycle tires established a spot for himself. People began putting chairs on the street near the sidewalk. A hibachi got used regularly. Down the road, several vehicles were parked where homeless people slept. A large old trailer without a license tag became a few people’s makeshift home for a few weeks.
In May the city had reached an agreement with Greyhound to move their terminal from downtown to an area near the mission. Word later was that the new depot would be built beginning in mid-September. This was clearly the spur that got the police to make a play to move the Irregulars away from the area they occupied.
At night the police would arrive and roust out the street denizens. When this first happened, many Irregulars relocated at a spot near the American River. But others returned quickly to the Bannon St. locale. Soon, the Irregulars learned that there was no penalty for near-immediately returning after being banished.
After many rounds of roust-and-return, the economy began its tailspin and that put the skids to both the Greyhound move and the police effort to displace the Irregulars.
As fall arrived and the trees took on all their earthy colors, the nights got a bit wet and cold. Sometimes very cold. Tents began to spring up like wild mushrooms on the across-the-road-from-the-mission side in the Bannon Street Irregulars community. There were several big tents that were erected which could hold four beings. And there were small ones, too, that could keep a loner dry. Down the street, near where North B Street rounded a curve and had a name-change to Bannon, a tent village emerged on a piece of property no bigger than a quarter acre. The people there cooked chicken on an open fire and hung their clothes to dry on the wire fence.
Because of the bitter turn of the economy, the county of Sacramento delayed the opening of the so-called Winter Shelter [aka, Overflow] from Nov. 1 to Nov. 24. Overflow has a good reputation in the homeless community because of its beds on bunks [instead of bunk pads], tasty meals, lenient rules and TV room. Overflow adds 154 beds [104 for men; 50 for women] to the shelter opportunities we Sac’to homeless have in the cold months. The official close date is March 9, three weeks before its usual close. Hopefully, the weather will be friendly then. [Update: I am told by Barry Wisdom of VOA, in an email received on Dec 8, that, per Angelo Gama, there is a possiblity that the close date might be extended. Let us hope that it can be, especially if the weather in March is bad.]
In synch with the opening of Overflow, the Irregulars got notice from the police of their eviction from the street. As it happened, this time the police action was mostly successful. Today [Dec 3], only a few stragglers continue to sleep in front of the mission. And down the street, in the tent village, the population seems slightly reduced.
In the mission shelter, for the past three days, there have been about ten empty bunk beds out of the sixty available. And the number attending services and sitting for the evening meal have been greatly reduced. For the moment, things are rather good. The weather is chilly, but dry. Life goes on.
* I call them this, a play on the Baker Street Irregulars of several Sherlock Holmes stories. The Bannon street people are "irregular" in that they intermittently eat at and the men get beds at the mission.