California’s Homeless Crisis Floods Its Capital With No Solution In Sight

Cali Carlisle admits she is a heroin addict — ‘but in a healthy way,’ she insists, even if the visual evidence belies that claim.

Her nose is the brightest shade of red imaginable. She constantly picks at scabs all over her body. Her home is a makeshift bed beneath Interstate 80 in Sacramento.

And Monday was her 26th birthday. Not that you would ever guess. Anyone looking at her would think she is at least 15 years older. 

Carlisle is part of California’s growing homeless emergency. The state has around 130,000 people without a roof over their heads. But she is not in downtown Los Angeles where Skid Row is a symbol of the national crisis or San Francisco where nearly one person in every hundred lives on the streets.

Instead, Carlisle and her fiancé Brian Workman are in Sacramento, the state capital, where homelessness has shot up by a shocking 19 percent in the past two years, putting the problem squarely on the doorstep of Gavin Newsom, the state’s Democratic governor.

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Growing issue: Sacramento’s homeless population has risen 19 percent in two years, with 5,570 people living on the streets. Pictured above is a man sleeping on the sidewalk in broad daylight
california homelessness crisis
As of 2018, California has the largest homeless population in the country, with 129,972 people living on the streets. The percentage has grown across Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Francisco
california homelessness crisis
california homelessness crisis
A recent survey showed 93 percent of Sacramento’s homeless either grew up in the city or had lived there long-term before hitting the streets, according to the city’s spokesman
california homelessness crisis
Sacramento, which has an estimated population of 1.5million, has a significantly smaller homeless population than Los Angeles, but the problem is growing

Last week, salon owner Liz Novak brought the nation’s attention to the problem when she announced to great fanfare that she was shutting up shop because she could not deal with the needles, the human waste, and the general aggravation that comes with having a business in the city.

‘I just want to tell you what happens when I get to work. I have to clean up the poop and the pee off of my doorstep. I have to clean-up the syringes. I have to politely ask the people who I care for, I care for these people that are homeless, to move their tents out of the way of the door to my business,’ she said in a video posted on Twitter, which gained the attention of Fox News and other national media outlets.

‘I am angry about it. I wouldn’t be relocating if it wasn’t for this issue,’ Novak added.  

Carlisle and Workman insist they are not part of the problem that forced Novak out. 

‘All we do is lie around, eat ice-cream, have sex, and take drugs,’ said Cali. ‘Man, I love ice-cream.

Carlisle says she needs heroin just to exist. ‘I need it for everything — just to walk and to breathe. 

‘I did go to rehab once, she added. ‘In Orangeville I think… or maybe it was somewhere else.’ 

Then she started a long rambling monologue that included ramekins and pico de gallo among other subjects and went off into her own world. 

california homelessness crisis
Salon owner Elizabeth Novak highlighted the issue in a video uploaded last week. Above is her shop after it was broken into (left) and the damaged front door after it was kicked in (right)
california homelessness crisis
The salon was perched between a barbershop and another business. Novak said she had to ‘clean up the poop and the pee off of my doorstep’ on a daily basis
california homelessness crisis
Novak said she has grown tired of having to clean up syringes, urine, and feces from outside her business daily. Pictured above is a slew of discarded syringes on the sidewalk
california homelessness crisis
Drug use has apparently run rampant in the area because people are told they can get ‘quick fix with cheap drugs,’ one business owner said

Carlisle grew up in Sacramento. Workman made his way there. Originally from San Jose, he found the rent got too high as tech companies moved in.

‘I moved to Placerville with a friend who had worked for Netflix and got money from their IPO,’ he said, displaying the few rotten teeth that remain in his mouth.

‘We had a falling out and I moved here because it was cheaper,’ added Workman, who had a job remodeling outdoor areas of homes. 

‘I got married in 2005 and had a couple of kids. I was married for nine years.

‘But then my father-in-law came to stay and there wasn’t room and I was paying rent for an apartment but couldn’t live there.’

He lost a job and says he couldn’t get another because he has a hearing problem. ‘I needed a hearing aid that cost $3,000 but I couldn’t afford it. It’s really difficult to keep work if you can’t hear. So I ended up on the streets.

california homelessness crisis
Brian Workman, originally from San Jose, told he ended up on the streets after losing his job. He now lives beneath Interstate 80 in Sacramento with fiancee Cali Carlisle (far left)
california homelessness crisis
Carlisle (center) and Workman both insist they are not part of the problem that forced Novak out. In fact, Carlisle says all they do is ‘lie around, eat ice-cream, have sex, and take drugs’
california homelessness crisis
The underpass has become an illegal campsite for rough sleepers, who are forced to leave when Highway Patrol officers clean up under the freeways. They tend to move back minutes after the clean-up
california homelessness crisis
Jeffrey Witte (pictured) 42, lives with his seven-year-old dog Luis under the freeway. He is seen being rousted by Highway Patrol Officer Caleb Howard
california homelessness crisis
Steve Sylvester, who owns The Antique Company, across the street from Novak’s hair salon, said his store has seen two ‘major incidents’ in the past six weeks

‘It’s a bit ironic,’ he added. ‘My name’s Workman — and I can’t work.’

He likes to keep his area of 23rd Street tidy. He has two long-handled brooms and regularly sweeps away. 

Every few days, workers from the California Department of Transportation backed by Highway Patrol officers clean up under the freeways.

They post notices, giving three days’ notice and announcing exactly when they are coming and they trash any unattended items. 

Carlisle and Workman — and many others — merely move their possessions out from the limited protection the highway gives them from the elements to the corner of the street, which is city land.

Within a few minutes, they move back again. ‘It’s a game of cat and mouse,’ said Workman. ‘But moving my stuff keeps me in shape. I’m in pretty good shape really.’

Highway Patrol Officer Caleb Howard, whose work includes backing up the CalTrans clean-up crew, said they rarely junk stuff that the homeless want. 

‘If they abandon it, they don’t want it,’ he told ‘They know when we are coming.’

Jeffrey Witte, 42, who was staying under the highway a couple of blocks from Workman and Carlisle, agreed, shortly after being rousted by Howard and his crew.

‘It’s somewhat fair,’ he said. ‘It’s slightly reasonable. Everyone knows the limits.’

Witte lives with his seven-year-old dog Luis. ‘I got him in Montana,’ he said.

california homelessness crisis
Sylvester, a London native, has run his store (pictured) in Sacramento for 20 years. He recently dealt with a drug-addicted vagrant who came into his store ’95 percent naked’ and damaged his property when he was asked to leave
california homelessness crisis
A sign is posted outside an antique store where homeless people have been regularly harassing customers in Sacramento
california homelessness crisis
The increasing problem has been put squarely on the doorstep of Gavin Newsom, the state’s Democratic governor
california homelessness crisis
Some streets in the city are now lined with tents, bikes, and handcarts as they become a de facto home for the vagrants
california homelessness crisis
The main homeless camp in Sacramento is located on North B Street. There, Pam Love (pictured left) 43, and Nyelah Averi (pictured in the tent) 32, share one of the dozens of tents that line the street

‘I just like traveling,’ said Witte, originally from Vernon, New Jersey. 

‘I hop freight trains. I’ve been all around the country. I went to high school in Virginia, lived in South Carolina, now I’m in California.

‘California is different,’ he said, admitting that legal marijuana is one thing that draws him to the state. ‘But I’ll move on soon. I want to go overseas.’

He is not alone. Many of Sacramento’s homeless are expected to leave town in the next couple of months.

‘They’re migratory,’ antique shop owner Steve Sylvester told ‘When the weather gets cooler they’ll head down toward San Diego.’

Sylvester’s store is just across the street from Novak’s salon. He has sympathy for his fellow business-owner but says he would never close up just because of the homeless.

‘I understand it is more intimidating for her, she worked alone,’ said Sylvester, a Londoner who has run his store in Sacramento for 20 years.

But he recognizes the problem. ‘We’ve had two major incidents in the past six weeks,’ he said.

‘We had a young man come in 95 percent naked — he had underpants on but below where they mattered. I asked him to leave and he asked why. I said he was upsetting my customers and he wasn’t really dressed for shopping.

‘As he left, he held out his arm and wiped out a whole china dinner service, worth $300-$400.

‘He was a drug addict. He didn’t know what he was doing. He was on Planet Zog.’

In the second incident, a man threw a rock through Sylvester’s window at four in the morning. He clambered through the shattered plate glass, found his way to the outdoor area and fell asleep. That’s where cops found him.

‘The problem has gotten noticeably worse in the past 18 months because Sacramento is the place where people are told you can get a quick fix with cheap drugs,’ said Sylvester.

‘Sacramento is a wonderful place, great weather, with nice, accommodating people who give the homeless money, which unfortunately too often goes to drugs. This area has 30 or so restaurants so there is always food to be had.’

But he says there is another problem. ‘I know homeless people are being given bus tickets here from both Davis and Reno because they are told Sacramento will look after them,’ he said.

That allegation — that other cities give one-way tickets to Sacramento to get them out of town — is a common claim around town. 

Officer Howard of the Highway Patrol told he knew of people getting tickets from Oregon.

City of Sacramento spokesman Tim Swanson said a Sacramento Bee article from 2013 found that Nevada was busing the homeless away from Las Vegas and one high-profile case had ended in Sacramento, but he did not address the specific allegations.

But he said a recent survey showed 93 percent of Sacramento’s homeless either grew up in the city or had lived there long-term before hitting the streets. 

‘This statistic contradicts the notion that people are coming to Sacramento specifically for services.’ 

california homelessness crisis
The government is now considering building a shelter near Bob’s Glass, where many homeless people already congregate – much to owner Robert Dutra’s frustration 
california homelessness crisis
Police officers and transportation authority employees remove homeless encampments under the freeway. Officer Howard says they rarely junk stuff that the homeless want
california homelessness crisis
A homeless man talks to himself while looking for the other half of his syringe in an alley behind Liz Novak’s abandoned salon

Swanson said the city has allocated $15.7million to sheltering the homes this year with another $1million for women, families, and children.

Last year, Mayor Darrell Steinberg asked each of the eight council members to identify a possible area for shelter within their districts. 

For the area where Sylvester and Novak’s businesses are located, that means an open field next to the long-established Bob’s Glass, an area where homeless already congregate.

 The problem has gotten noticeably worse in the past 18 months because Sacramento is the place where people are told you can get a quick fix with cheap drugs

And that doesn’t go down well.

‘Considering I was barricaded in this building on a Sunday with my four-year-old daughter, no, I am not happy about it,’ fumed Bob’s Glass owner, Robert Dutra.

‘We were stuck for about an hour,’ said the father-of-five. 

‘They threw their stuff on top of the gate and wouldn’t go away. Hazel, my daughter, was very frightened.’

Eventually, police came and an officer told the homeless people: ‘There is a right way and a wrong way to do this. Now, get the f**k out of here.’

‘He probably shouldn’t have done that, but it was effective,’ said Dutra, 34, who, on another occasion had to take a staff member to the hospital after a homeless man lashed out at him with a knife.

‘There was blood everywhere,’ he said. ‘I can’t remember exactly how many stitches he needed, but it was between 10 and 20.’

Dutra is still hopeful the shelter will not be built next to his company — the decision will be made this week. 

‘It’s within 1,000 feet of a school, there is a business that helps kids get into college. It’s just the wrong place.

‘Any politician is committing career suicide by advocating to put that shelter here. Suppose a young girl gets raped or even murdered. Then it’s over for them.’

The council member who is putting himself at that risk is Jay Schenirer, 62. He has sympathy for Dutra’s position but is adamant that the land at X Street and Alhambra is the right place for his district’s 100-bed shelter.

california homelessness crisis
Some residents have claimed other cities are giving the homeless one-way tickets to Sacramento to get them out of town
california homelessness crisis
City of Sacramento spokesman Tim Swanson said the city has allocated $15.7million to sheltering the homes this year with another $1million for women, families, and children. Pictured above is a homeless man on the sidewalk

‘There are currently well over 100 homeless people camped in that area,’ Schenirer told ‘They are unsupervised.

‘It is better for us to have some control over what is happening, rather than having them roam the streets.’

Schenirer can’t quite understand why Sacramento has suddenly been thrust into the forefront of homeless issues. 

‘We have 5,500 homeless in the whole of Sacramento County. Los Angeles has 50,000 on Skid Row alone,’ he said.

‘There is no silver bullet,’ he added. ‘Everything we do has to be connected to services. Just putting a roof over someone’s head is not a long-term solution.’

Both Schenirer and Swanson said Novak has not reached out to the city for help with her problem over the homelessness. 

‘I don’t know her,’ said Schenirer. ‘I would be more than happy to sit down with her and talk.’

In four days that spent in Sacramento, not one homeless person was seen on Novak’s property. But the problem is clearly real.

Across the street at Pancake Circus diner, 70-year-old waitress Terri — she would not give her last name or agree to be photographed — starts every working day at 4.15am ‘cleaning up needles and poop and washing down urine,’ and shooing the homeless from the property.

‘They’ll strip their clothes off. I often find them out front completely naked,’ she said. ‘Heroin is a huge problem, it’s not just Oxycontin and other opioids, it’s heroin.’

Terri says she tries not to call the police. ‘I’m not going to call if they are just panhandling, but if they are spitting at me or throwing their defecation, then that’s different.’

california homelessness crisis
A homeless woman prepares to leave the encampment as police officers stand nearby
california homelessness crisis
A recent report found 70 percent of the homeless people counted in Sacramento were living without shelter
california homelessness crisis
Last year, Mayor Darrell Steinberg asked each of the eight council members to identify a possible area for shelter within their districts

She says she lets the homeless use the diner’s bathroom — ‘everyone should have that dignity.’

‘But I tell them if you pick up what you have in your hand and smear it on the walls and I have to clean it off, then you’re not coming in again.’

Terri, who has worked at Pancake Circus since 1996, says many of the homeless have no idea what is going on, but others manipulate them. ‘They’re the Robin Hoods of the ‘hood.

‘I don’t like to use the term homeless because what is homeless? Is it someone who got addicted, or is it someone who lost their job and then couldn’t afford their rent? My daughter calls them ‘alterno-hobos.’

‘When I was growing up, a hobo was someone who rode the rails and would come knock on your door and ask what town they were in. 

‘My daughter would play with her friends in the street and when one approached, they would all yell ‘bum’ and run home but no-one would get hurt.’

Terri puts much of the blame on former California governor Ronald Reagan, who held office from 1967 to 1975. 

‘I’m old enough to remember when he closed all the asylums. It was the worst thing he could have done. That created this problem.’

While Novak has drawn attention to the problems in her area, the main homeless camp in Sacramento is two-and-a-half miles away on North B Street.

There, Pam Love, 43, and Nyelah Averi, 32, share one of the dozens of tents that line the street. 

Averi said she used to work at the nearby headquarters of Blue Diamond Almonds. 

Embarrassed, she now hides from her former colleagues as they go to and from work.

california homelessness crisis
A waitress at Pancake Circus diner, identified only as 70-year-old Terri, said she starts every working day at 4.15am ‘cleaning up needles and poop and washing down urine,’ and shooing the homeless from the property

She has been homeless since July last year when – she says – she took the rap for a boyfriend, who had, unknown to her, stolen the car she was driving.

She served 120 days in jail. Her now-ex-boyfriend had previous convictions and would have faced a much longer spell behind bars, she said. 

As a condition of her release, she was not allowed to return to her home in Chico as the theft victim was a neighbor. Then she lost all her belongings in the wildfires that swept across northern California last summer.

‘I don’t want to be homeless,’ said Averi who said she is in college studying peace and global studies. ‘I just want to get back on my feet.’

Love, originally from the Compton, has a similar story. She too claims she took the blame for a crime she didn’t commit, although would not expand on what she had done.

She said she survives on $1,000-a-month payments, which goes on food and prior debts, meaning she cannot afford the medication for her Stage 3 stomach cancer. 

She said she had two sons but one was murdered and the other died in a car crash.

‘I worry every day about things here,’ she said, pointing out that safety is a two-way street.

‘A lot of tents have been set on fire. But nobody has ever been arrested.’ 

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