The entire incident of the tent city that has been allowed to form on open land adjacent to the American River Parkway—which in terms of preserving the Parkway’s natural resources is ‘in’ the Parkway—the international publicity arising from it, the reaction and non-reaction of homeless advocates, public leadership, and Parkway advocates, is providing some important moments for us all.
We saw, in the sudden outpouring of help that made its way to the tent city, the great compassion all of us feel for those who are without the basics of food and shelter any life requires, and that is a very good thing about our community.
What we haven't seen is much of a call to protect the Parkway from the obvious stress being placed on it by unrestricted camping—though technically on private land—so close to it that the environmental damage of the impact of large-scale campgrounds without any facilities normally available to campgrounds, can only be imagined, but one can assume it will be of significant impact.
Had a Joint Power Authority been governing the Parkway (which we have called for, see our January 29, 2009 Press Release), the permanent management staff would have surely been on top of this situation from the beginning, considering the direct and destructive environmental impact it was having on the Parkway.
It is crucial that we give the Parkway a governing and management voice that has more public resonance than that of the relatively small and inadequately staffed resources that the Parkway advocates groups are able to bring to bear when events of this magnitude arise, that have the potential to cause great harm to the Parkway.
Today’s article from the Bee attempts to put all of this into context.
“Sacramento's humble "tent city" has gone international.
“Across the country and around the world, newspaper readers and television viewers are being introduced to the sprawling campground where 100 to 200 homeless men and women sleep each night…
“The huge wave of media attention that followed a recent Oprah Winfrey program featuring the tent city has spurred donations, ideas and volunteers. But it also has complicated things for officials who suddenly have found themselves in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons…
“But even advocates acknowledge that some of the reporting has been misleading or downright inaccurate. Various media outlets have reported that 1,200 people live at the camp, four to five times higher than the actual population of the tent city on any given night, they said. The larger number represents the total number of homeless people living in shelters, camps and other places in the Sacramento area.
“Some news organizations are erroneously portraying the tent city "as a refugee camp" for formerly middle-class people who have been hit by the recession, said Tim Brown of the Sacramento Ending Chronic Homeless Initiative.
"While it's very true that we are seeing increasing numbers of middle-class families hitting the streets, it's still a very small percentage," Brown said. "At tent city, 90 percent of the people are chronically homeless."