'Bushville' Grows Near Sacramento, CA


3-24-09, 9:04 am

SACRAMENTO, CA - 19MARCH09 – On one side of the American River in downtown Sacramento, foundations and media organizations have comfortable offices with views of the water. On the other side, a homeless camp sits beside the railroad tracks next to the huge Blue Diamond almond processing plant. A biking and jogging trail winds past the camp, and over the bridge crossing the river. Runners and bicyclists in spandex and shorts pass by, hardly noticing the hundreds of people living in tents, under makeshift tarps, or simply sleeping on the ground. This community has mushroomed in the last few months as the economic crisis puts people out of homes and jobs, onto the streets, or in this case, into a field.

Salvador Orozco, a Mexican migrant from Michoacan, sleeps on a piece of cardboard under a bush next to the tracks. He came from Los Angeles, where he says police cleared out another camp of people living under tarps. 'In some areas they're closing the shelters to single men, because they don't have enough room for families,' he says. 'More and more people are living in their cars with children, and they're kicking single people off welfare.' The homeless are 'frente de la batalla' – at the front of the attack Orozco says.

A religious man, he spends much of his day reading the Bible and Christian evangelist magazines. 'While I was reading yesterday, the railroad police came and gave me a ticket and said I had to leave. But go where? This all comes from the anger that the world has at people like us.

Nearby the skeletal figure of a woman stands guard over the kitchen at the entrance to another settlement within the homeless camp. Residents of this small community call it Rancho Encasalotengo (a sarcastic comment meaning, 'I have it at home.') The skeleton is a figure in Mexican culture popular on the Day of the Dead. This figure is the creation of artist Francisco Bernal, who sleeps in a tent here.

In a large open field next to the river a woman talks on her cellphone. Two friends, Eric Williams and Kieth Keele, live in this part of the homeless camp. So does Robert Burgins, a disabled worker. Burgins says he's been injured several times, but still has just enough unemployment benefits to keep him going for a few weeks longer. It wasn't enough to pay rent, though, which is why he's living in the homeless camp. Over a long life, Burgins worked as a mason, an auto mechanic and a machinist.

--David Bacon is the author of Illegal People – How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants and Communities Without Borders.