Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tent City

Our organization does not have an organizational opinion on the tent city concept in general, except for the obvious one, that society should not reward choices individuals make which lead to public behavior it deems problematic, as that will encourage that behavior; and at a certain level, most of the behaviors that lead to homelessness--excepting perhaps mental illness and external economic conditions--are a result of individual choices.

However, we strongly advocate that any tent city that Sacramento might approve, as this article in the Sacramento Bee today notes, not be placed near or in the American River Parkway, as we’ve posted on previously, here, here, and here, and as is now the case where an unapproved tent city has been in the Parkway, moving when compelled to another area of the Parkway, for several weeks.

An excerpt.

“SEATTLE – This winter, 68 homeless men and women settled into an organized camp in a leafy hillside neighborhood of this city. The flaps of their colorful tents were mere feet from five-bedroom homes worth more than $700,000.

“Not far away, another camp set up in and around an old city firehouse, was two blocks from the rush-hour buzz of an avenue packed with restaurants and yoga studios. A third took shape across the street from City Hall in Kirkland, a lakeside enclave east of Seattle that is one of Washington's more affluent communities.

“It took years to get here, but tent cities for the homeless are now enmeshed in the fabric of the greater Seattle community. Nearly 300 men and women are living in the region's three tent cities under the gray winter skies of the Pacific Northwest. The camps, which rely on food donated by churches, relocate every three months or so. And with each rotation, the protests to their existence fade.

“Could this be Sacramento's future?

“After years of debate, Sacramento homeless advocates and City Hall are closing in on a proposal for a sanctioned tent city.

“Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said last week that he is frustrated that a plan has not materialized. He said a tent city could provide a place for the homeless to transition into permanent housing and "integrate back into mainstream society."

“The biggest hurdle so far has been concerns over where the camp would be located. Critics also warn that creating a sanctioned camp would attract and enable the homeless.

“The tent city movement in Seattle was launched amid similar division. And while resistance has dimmed, it wasn't always easy.

“The first tent city sprouted in Seattle in 1990, but faced with opposition, it morphed into a church-run shelter. Another camp followed but was flattened by bulldozers in 1998.

“Eventually, advocates cut deals with local officials that allowed two camps to operate on a rotating basis – but that was more than a decade into the debate.

“Now, two decades into the effort, city officials – and many residents – see the camps as a sign of progress rather than a source of problems.

"We are a more compassionate city because of this," said Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride, "and we have a better idea of what the downturn in our economy has meant because it's right in front of us."