Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reno Tent City & Sacramento

This article, from the Reno Gazette Journal, notes the recent emergence of a legal tent city there and comments on Sacramento’s situation.

An excerpt.

“Reno’s 100-tent homeless camping area just off Fourth Street is here to stay, at least for the near future. City officials said it’s a matter of humanity and law that homeless people can’t be harassed or arrested for lacking a place to stay. As of Thursday, the encampment will be under some new rules, written by a committee of 13 tent city residents and approved by homeless center staff and the mayor. The new regulations are designed to ensure the area is safe and doesn’t present a health hazard….

“Sacramento's experience

"John Kraintz, a homeless man who is president of SafeGround Sacramento, said about 80 people are camped on a lawyer’s property on the American River. He said the police keep threatening to arrest the residents for “illegal camping.”

“A year ago we had about 225 people camping out,” he said. “City services just keep drying up... We did a protest last summer.”

“He said local agencies such as Loaves and Fishes and Sacramento churches have supported the concept of a safe place to stay in the area, but city council members aren’t on board. Formerly, he said, a lot of homeless people chose to remain outside as a “lifestyle choice,” but these days the homeless population includes many people who weren’t in dire straits until recently.

“So many people are just underwater right now,” Kraintz said. “Our mayor has been very supportive, but (other politicians) haven’t been much help. The strategy has been to drive (homeless people) away, dump them on your neighbors.”

“The Safe Ground concept is a “stop-gap measure,” he said, aimed at “creating a community that will succeed in getting out of homelessness and develop self-sufficiency.” The rules in his homeless camp are simple, he said: “Residents sign a contract that says there will be no violence and no threats of violence. We secure a perimeter and if people don’t abide by the rules they get ostracized.”

“Kraintz said Reno is ahead of Sacramento in doing something about the homeless problem.

“The Very Rev. Brian Baker, Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Sacramento, is a long-time advocate for the homeless. He said Safe Ground is not the best solution for people who are homeless, but it is a “low-cost first step and it’s a lot better than criminalizing homelessness and arresting them when we don’t have enough shelter space.”