Friday, March 04, 2011

Homeless Advocates & the Parkway

In an excellent article in the Sacramento News & Review, Bob Slobe, for whom our Parkway Advocate Award is named and who has more standing to discuss this issue perhaps than anyone else in the region, as the Parkway land in question once belonged to his family and he has been advocating for public safety and taking care of the Parkway for some 25 years now, writes about the current situation.

An excerpt.

"The very first thing a poor North Sacramentan thinks when considering a walk or hike or boat-fishing outing in our section of the American River Parkway is, “Will I be safe?” The second thought is, “No, I won’t.” Here, it is never, “Should I bring a jacket?” It is, “I hope I’ll make it out alive.”

"This is our reality, because a group of homeless advocates, none of whom live near our struggling community—none who eat here, shop here or even drive through this part of town regularly—want the poorest of the poor to give over to the “homeless” their closest park and nature area, the Woodlake Reach of the American River Parkway.

"Well, to date, they have succeeded; they have turned the Woodlake Reach into “Unsafe Ground.”

"I grew up near the Reach, in the once-separate city of North Sacramento. We had everything a family could want: good schools, nearby shopping, a main street, safe streets and parks that were an embarrassment to our neighbor, the city of Sacramento. Our schools were top rate, too; Grant Union High School was a gem. All of that changed after 1964 when we were subsumed by the city of Sacramento in a merger. We all watched as our brand-new police and fire trucks were taken over the river the day after the merger and replaced by the city of Sacramento’s aging ones. Our per-capita median income went from a point above that of the city of Sacramento’s to less than a third in a flash.

"Today, North Sacramento has become the ultimate repository for a growing city’s ills: huge concentrations of low-income housing and painfully unsuccessful social programs. It’s no surprise that our schools and public facilities are in relative ruins. Sacramento has managed to dump every possible challenge to health and prosperity on our community, taking the Archie Bunker approach to social programming: “Edith, put ’em all on an island.” And apparently Sacramento is not yet done. The Parkway’s Woodlake Reach may be the last victory … or failure, depending on your point of view.

"I’m passionate about this issue, because my family gave over what is now 10 percent of the Parkway, back in 1986. At the time, we envisioned our entire community—including North Sacramento—taking full advantage of the out of doors and our rivers, in perpetuity. We knew the potential, because at my grandmother’s invitation, there were summer camps and other nature activities organized along the river near Woodlake.

"To our dismay, we watched as the area became a haven for camping, crime and drugs. Bums burned the oldest native walnut grove west of the Mississippi to the ground, and looted centuries-old Maidu sacred sites. Our Parkway recreation became a game of dodge-the-discarded-needles and steer clear the pile of feces. Our attention was diverted away from the native kite or hawk and towards the litter of porn and the garbage pile. It is impossible not to conclude that the county has been a failed steward of the Woodlake Reach, turning its back on this wretched stretch, akin to the county’s own deformed thalidomide babies. I know some will shrink at this comparison. But experience has shown that it’s only through uncivil discourse that we can draw attention to the problem.

"What North Sacramento needs is recreational experiences equal to those of tony neighborhoods elsewhere, not bum camping that denies it. Given the challenges facing the working poor population in North Sacramento, a respite from the tough jobs and neighborhoods they face every day should be a given. We should not be burdened with solving problems of illegal camping and the homeless. We should just be able to enjoy a walk, or lie down in the grass in our part of the Parkway and pick animals out of cloud formations—without worrying about getting stuck by a dirty needle, or raped, or even murdered. But that’s North Sacramento’s Parkway today. Ever in fear."