Monday, February 21, 2011

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

The issue here, as virtually every paragraph in the Sacramento Bee story today and the associated comments make clear, is illegal camping by the homeless in the American River Parkway, but the Bee insists on entitling it “Breaking Sacramento's homeless cycle”, and that is part of the problem in resolving the issue of illegal camping in the Parkway.

Public governmental and media leadership cannot seem to realize how important it is to protect one of the most valuable public recreational areas in the country by strictly enforcing the laws against illegal camping.

That is why it is crucial, if we are to save this most beautiful and historical part of the American River Parkway, that it be managed by a nonprofit organization which will enforce the law.

The structure of this form of management, which retains public ownership of the Parkway, is outlined in our strategy posted to our website.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“All last week, it was a cat and mouse game along the American River Parkway.

“Dozens of homeless men and women pitched colorful dome tents and claimed a right to live on land they dubbed Safe Ground, despite an ordinance that makes such encampments illegal.

“Homeowners and parkway users complained about trash, fires and drug abuse. Park rangers rousted the campers, but they resurfaced just a short distance away. Rangers moved in again, and the cycle continues, all in the glare of the media spotlight.

“From a 2009 feature on Oprah Winfrey's show to a cover story in the current issue of Harper's magazine, Sacramento has been cast as the face of the "new" homeless. But the issue has simmered for decades here, fueling anger, moral outrage and political debate.

“Should Sacramento get behind a Safe Ground where homeless people can live with basic services, free of police interference? If so, where should it be located? Does anyone have a better solution?

“The Bee asked eight people with personal stakes to offer their perspectives.

“Sacramento homeless: Ranger weary on constant rousting

“Steve Flannery, 58

“Sacramento County chief ranger

“Illegal campers have peppered the American River Parkway since the 1980s, when Sacramento County's chief ranger, Steve Flannery, estimates there were 60 people living in the four-mile downtown stretch.

“The rangers would cite the campers they encountered and send them on to their next nomadic destination.

"Keep them on the move," was the strategy, Flannery recalled. "The longer they stay in one place, the more environmental damage they do."

“But when the numbers began to ratchet up – with more incidents of cut branches, trampled vegetation and the scarred black rings of former campfires – two rangers took on the homeless full time beginning in 2002.

“There were days when the team would report not encountering a single camper between Discovery Park and Sacramento State, said Flannery.

“But a parched county budget halved the number of rangers from 22 in 2009 to 11 in 2010. The homeless detail was deemed gratuitous.

“Then came Safe Ground Sacramento, an organized group of homeless who turned a plot on the parkway into a campground housing as many as 150 people.

"We don't have an easy answer," said Flannery. "If we're going to have a mass eviction, there needs to be a place for them to go."