Sunday, September 27, 2009

Homelessness in the Sierra-Nevada foothills

Two recent news items, one on KXJZ's Insight and one in today's Sacramento Bee, have focused on the issue of homelessness in or near Placerville, California, population 9,610. Placerville is the county seat of El Dorado County and is just east of Sacramento County and part of the Sacramento Metropolitan area. Still, the KXJZ feature referred to it as "rural," and many in El Dorado County think of it as rural. See an earlier post here. I personally see Placerville as exurban, but other parts of the county are far more rural in character, by various measures. It is a vast county that stretches all the way to Lake Tahoe and the Nevada state line, and it features a great deal of public land.

Today's Bee story didn't play up the rural angle as much as it did a personal angle, by focusing on one homeless man. The story, "Homeless horseman moseys through Gold Country" features Frank Jack Fletcher Turpen, who lives in the woods near Placerville, where he keeps and manages to feed and care for a number of horses. Here's an excerpt from Peter Hecht's story that highlights Turpen's relationship with local law enforcement officials:

"He is the only homeless person I have ever seen riding a horse," said El Dorado County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Byers. "My impression is that he isn't there by circumstances. He is there by choice. He is comfortable with who he is."

Last year, California Highway Patrol officers stopped him on an eastbound ramp of Highway 50 on a mustang named Shiner he bought in Angels Camp for $400.

The CHP report said he was riding while intoxicated. It listed his "vehicle" as a "domestic white horse – female." He got three years' probation for public drunkenness.

Turpen faces trial in October for misdemeanor trespassing, allegedly as part of an encampment near an El Dorado Irrigation District reservoir. He says he wasn't there.

Byers said authorities also received calls from residents concerned about the horses Turpen ties up when stopping for a cup of coffee or tobacco at local businesses.

But deputies found his animals watered, fed and content in the woods. "All our checks showed us they are very well cared for," Byers said.

1 comment:

Jessica Taylor said...

I find it interesting that the Sheriff stated, "My impression is that he isn't there by circumstance. He is there by choice." What basis does the Sheriff make this assertion? Is it simply because he has a well-cared for horse? Many transients have well-cared for pets (often transients even keep their pets in better health than themselves). The Sheriff possibly suggests this due to the implied rurality of the man in question. Wouldn't a good-old-boy be more likely to CHOOSE to be homeless? It certainly seems to fit in with urban stereotypes.