Monday, February 14, 2011

Leader With Experience

As this column from Marcos Breton reveals, the background of Supervisor Phil Serna—who is playing a very helpful role in resolving illegal Parkway camping by the homeless—has given him close experience with the issue, from his seat on the board of Cottage Housing.

Experience is crucial to understanding this issue, as trying to understand it from a distance too often leads to a misguided form of compassion generally unhelpful to either the community or the homeless.

As with so many stubborn social issues involving individual behavior, this one calls for a foundation of tough love.

An excerpt.

“The issue of homelessness has dogged Sacramento for years because the wrong voices always lead the discussion into a wall of passive-aggressive resistance.

“Homeless advocates continually push the misguided idea of erecting a campground where homeless people would live in tents and sheds in a city where urban camping is otherwise illegal.

“Mayor Kevin Johnson has been an ally of the "Safe Ground" movement, but most other politicians privately recoil at the implications of such a place.

“Would you want a homeless campground next to your home? What's to stop such a place from becoming permanent? Who is liable if someone is stabbed or shot, or if drugs or alcohol are being abused there?

“The issue always bogs down in these details until the next homeless crisis, which emerged last week when homeless people were told to disperse from the American River Parkway after camping illegally and trashing one of Sacramento's treasure spots.

“Fortunately, there is a new voice on the scene with a reasonable, compassionate alternative to letting people live in tents and sheds.

“Phil Serna is a brand-new county supervisor who has dedicated part of his life to helping homeless people.

“The son of Sacramento's beloved late mayor, Joe Serna, Phil Serna was on the board of Cottage Housing, which operates residential housing complexes where homeless people live under a roof and get back on their feet.

"It's a clean and sober environment, and there is testing to make sure of it," Serna said of Cottage Housing, which serves more than 500 people annually.

"Services are offered. People are assisted in clearing their warrants, in dealing with their disabilities, in getting their kids back," Serna said.

"In housing people in tents and Tuff Sheds, you can't convince me that is a genuine effort to change the circumstances of the individual."

“Those are the key words – changing the circumstances of the individual. Serna is for helping people who want to help themselves.”