This is how bad things are getting in the city where I live. All the homeless shelters are full and the tent cities are nearing capacity.
Sacramento homeless woman finds some who care in her hour of need
Published Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009
In the life of every homeless person, there is a tipping point that pushes him or her from the edge to the street.
That final plunge came Friday for Deanna Van Slate, whose Honda Accord, her only shelter, was impounded for expired registration.
Rock bottom came in a North Sacramento parking lot. The 50-year-old woman stood in the rain, bags of possessions at her feet, with nowhere to go.
"How am I supposed to live like this?" she asked.
Van Slate's downward spiral began in November, when she lost her job at Home Depot. She was living in a Citrus Heights duplex, but couldn't make the $850 rent when her 65-year-old roommate died of cancer in December.
Collecting just $105 in unemployment every two weeks, she said she was forced to live in her car after being evicted earlier this month.
Van Slate had just stopped in to pick up her check " which wasn't available yet " on Friday afternoon when a Sacramento police officer stopped her on 16th Street at Thornton Avenue. Her registration was expired, and she had no proof of insurance. So the officer had her car towed.
Desperate, Van Slate said she begged him to reconsider.
"I was on my knees," she said.
Her registration had been expired for at least six months, which is the threshold for an officer to legally tow a car, said Sgt. Norm Leong, Sacramento Police Department spokesman.
"Do we have to? Very seldom do we have to do anything," Leong said. But officers who make exceptions face potential liability later if that unregistered car is involved in an accident " even if the driver is not at fault.
"When you make that discretion and allow someone to keep their car, you're taking that risk," Leong said.
If officers made exceptions for every emotional plea they received, Leong said, "then you'd have a lot of uninsured, unlicensed drivers on the road."
Sister Libby Fernandez, executive director of Loaves & Fishes homeless services, said the decision was not just a legal one, but also an ethical one.
"There might be a law you are guided by, but where is your compassion in any law?" she asked.
Fernandez arrived at the North Sacramento parking lot with other Loaves & Fishes staff members to assist the tearful Van Slate after a nearby business owner called to report the exchange.
Gary Wood, owner of Wood Bros. Floor Coverings Inc., said he watched Van Slate pulling bags of belongings out of her car as it was being hitched to a tow truck.
It nearly brought him to tears, watching her cry in the rain.
"Anybody's heart would have gone out to her," Wood said.
He called Loaves & Fishes for help. Fernandez and her staff members loaded Van Slate's belongings into a golf cart and brought her to a tent city on Bannon Street.
It was the best they could do, Fernandez said, because all the city's shelters are full.
Wood said he sees many homeless people in the area, and "it's not like I have a load of compassion" for all of them.
But he said watching an ordeal like Van Slate's "brings it home. There's probably more of this in the future."
For weeks, Fernandez said, she has been talking to those who are Sacramento's newly homeless.
"She's as human as you and me," Fernandez said of Van Slate. "We're not that removed from being homeless ourselves."
Sad and angry for Van Slate, Fernandez said she nonetheless took solace knowing somebody called for help; that other homeless campers at the tent city assisted Van Slate in finding an open spot for her belongings; and that an overwhelmed and frightened Van Slate still found it in her heart to share a blanket with another homeless and very cold camper.