Friday, January 23, 2009

Homeless Tent City in Sacramento?

What is particularly sad in this story from the Sacramento Bee is exactly what Bob Slobe—a member of our organizational leadership and the person for whom our Parkway Advocate Award is named—mentions; the overwhelming burden placed on already struggling folks, in the siting and allowing of homeless camps in one of the poorest sections of the city virtually destroying the ability of those adjacent communities to recreate safely in the Parkway.

This has been the status quo for many years now and it is very disheartening—even given the poor economic conditions we are currently witnessing—to envision actual governmental support of these neighborhood destroying measures.

If local government truly wishes to establish tent cities they need to be some place where the surrounding communities are not materially and criminogenically degraded—as the first call of public leadership is to protect the public.

An excerpt.

“Sacramento homeless who illicitly camp along the American River Parkway and on city sidewalks may soon be able to live in tent communities sanctioned by government and police.

“Police, city and county leaders and homeless advocates are seriously considering several potential locations for communities that would allow campers to live free from police interference and offer basic services such as running water and portable toilets.

“Mayor Kevin Johnson told The Bee he is open to the concept.

"I am actually optimistic that we're going to get something done," said Mark Merin, who has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city and county on behalf of homeless people who by choice or circumstances live outdoors rather than in shelters. Merin argues that ticketing homeless people for illegal camping violates their constitutional rights.

“The idea of sanctioned homeless camps, which would have to be approved by the City Council and Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, undoubtedly will face opposition from property owners in affected areas.

“North Sacramento developer Robert Slobe, for one, said tent communities would "burden the poorest neighborhoods in the region," including his own, with more problems.

"Homelessness will not go away any time soon, but we can no longer burden our working poor and their open spaces with the full weight of the problem," Slobe said. "It is a burden to be shared by all."

“Some 2,500 homeless people live in Sacramento, and several hundred of them are camping outside at any given time, surveys suggest.

“For years, area cops and park rangers have engaged in a kind of chess game with them. Tent communities pop up on sidewalks, on the American River Parkway and in front of shelters, and nearby residents and business owners complain. Police roust everyone under the threat of citations and seizure of possessions, and the homeless pull up stakes and go elsewhere, only to return weeks or months later.”