Friday, February 18, 2011

Issue is Public Safety, Not Homelessness

What this Sacramento Bee editorial seems to not recognize, is that is doesn’t matter why people are illegally camping in the American River Parkway, or what their state of mind is or isn’t.

However, it does need to be taken into account when removing illegal campers and that is where having homeless service programs accompany police during sweeps to remove campers, which is part of the strategy we propose in our report on the issue, starting on page 25.

What ultimately matters, in speaking of illegal camping in the Parkway, is the level of public safety in the Parkway resulting from allowing it.

Allowing large scale illegal camping in the Parkway destroys public safety.

Determining the foundational reasons behind homelessness—an issue that has been part of human society from the beginning—are matters for the social scientists.

Providing public safety is a primary public responsibility of law enforcement and public leadership guiding their actions.

So, by all means, continue the eternal discussion of why there is homelessness, but please work—in the meantime—to provide public safety in the Parkway where illegal camping has been allowed to exist for at least the past ten years.

An excerpt.

“All of 'em are bums. They don't want anyone's help. They live down by the river by choice, not circumstance. The people who advocate for them are exploiting public sympathy.

“On and on, year after year, the serious problem of homeless people camping by the American River resurfaces. And time after time, the same tired myths and generalizations about the homeless also resurface, adding to the challenge of getting beyond the status quo.

“It is understandable why people are angry. People who bike or walk on the American River Parkway shouldn't have to feel threatened by illegal encampments and their occupants. Residents who live near the Highway 160 bridge over the American River shouldn't have to feel like their neighborhoods are sacrifice zones for problems that other neighborhoods wouldn't tolerate. People who care for the parkway and its habitat shouldn't have to pick up the trash left behind by illegal campers. Park rangers and police shouldn't have to confront, year after year, the unpleasant job of rousting the homeless.

“All of these groups deserve to be heard as the city and county once again attempt to make progress on the problem of illegal camping. Yet no one is served by those who, in arguing their points, make sweeping generalizations about homeless people or those advocating for Safe Ground – a legal encampment for the homeless.

“One of the most misleading observations is the oft-repeated claim that many of those camping along the river do so by choice. It is easy to jump to such a conclusion. When reporters interview illegal campers along the river, they often come back with quotes about the joys of sleeping under mistletoe and eating berries from the bush.

“Yet one needs to address this question: How many of these illegal campers are of sound mind? Isn't a sign of mental illness someone who would turn down a warm bed to sleep on the ground, week after week, during winter rains and cold?”