Monday, February 21, 2011

The Homeless in the Parkway

Considering that virtually all of the stories about the homeless over the past couple of weeks in the Sacramento Bee concerned the large scale illegal tent city in the American River Parkway, documented by the photos of Bob Slobe, and blogged on by us, the title of this article “Can we afford to keep rousting the homeless?” is analogous to articles reporting on crime along one city street and then seeing a Bee article entitled “Can we afford to keep arresting criminals?”

The only reason we as an organization have been compelled to study the homeless issue is because public leadership in government and media has allowed large-scale illegal camping to exist in the American River Parkway for the past ten years at least.

For us, and the people who live in the adjacent communities, the issue isn’t the homeless, but public safety in the Parkway, which is destroyed by the illegal camping by the homeless.

An excerpt.

“Safe Ground has become the focal point of Sacramento's heightened debate on homelessness. There are those who want to crack down on homeless camping anywhere and others who are more tolerant. They don't like the situation but given the fact that there is no place for the homeless to go they believe authorities should leave the campers alone. Safe Ground campers want a safe place somewhere in the city where they can live legally, a place where they can govern themselves and where, they pledge, drugs, alcohol and violence will not be tolerated.

“They are not proposing a tent city or shantytown. They envision sleeping cabins, ADA approved with room for dogs. The complex would have communal kitchens, showers and social services. They believe the proposal can be financed with private grants. They plan to ask local churches to sponsor the cabins.

“Safe Ground advocates have harangued the Sacramento City Council with their demands nearly every week, a tactic that has worn thin, frankly, and one that I suspect may be losing the group points with the public. But behind the scenes, the advocates are making progress. The city is working with them to find potential locations. A half-dozen or so have been selected. No one wants to identify them yet for fear of a backlash from residents….

“Safe Ground is more than a place to stay. It is a community. The people I met there are fragile, beaten down, some are slow-witted, others seriously mentally ill, some just months or weeks sober. They look homeless. Many are toothless, dirty and ragged. They need more than shelter. They need emotional support. The Safe Ground community provides that, a close-knit village of sorts, where they won't be shunned. When the rain stops and the sun shines they sit around picnic tables, cooking, sharing meals, talking, joking with each other, forging friendships – one of those miracle drugs that doesn't cost anything and has no dangerous side effects.

“But move beyond the Safe Ground orbit on the American River Parkway and you are literally in no-man's land. The woods behind Pollock Pines Boy Scout Camp are honeycombed with homeless campsites. Illegal drug use – heroin and methamphetamine are the drugs of choice, I was told – is rampant. So is alcoholism. Piles of trash are everywhere. So is human waste. These homeless men and women are either unwilling or unable to comply with the no drugs, no alcohol and no violence rules that apply at Safe Ground.

“Many are like Ogden Triplett, better known as Rocky, a 45-year-old ex-felon who told me he needs "his weed and alcohol to keep the pain away."

“Others are like 54-year-old Angel Burden, who lives on $846 a month from government disability payments. It's not enough to pay rent. She doesn't want to go into a shelter, she says, because they won't let her take her dogs, two Great Danes who reach to her waist.”