Homeless in the Parkway

In this story from today’s Bee, the ongoing tragedy of the homeless in our community continues as we read about their struggles against the natural elements as they find themselves flooded from their campgrounds along the American River.

In our report on the Lower Reach (www.arpps.org) we called for support of the Housing First option to help the chronic homeless who camp along the river and would encourage public leadership to renew their efforts to bring this program on line.

What isn’t written about in this story is the extensive damage the illegal campers cause to the Parkway and virtually deny the people who live in the adjacent community the opportunity to use their part of the Parkway in safety, free from refuse and fear.

This is, in many ways, a larger tragedy and we continue to look for the leadership of the homeless organizations, while continuing their call for Housing First, to also speak out for the safe and enjoyable use of the Parkway for the adjacent community.

While it is important to show compassion for the homeless illegally camping in the Parkway, it is also important to show compassion for the community suffering from the consequences.

Here is an excerpt.

Spring no friend to city’s homeless
Mosquitoes, flooded camps add to troubles

By Jocelyn Wiener — Bee Staff WriterPublished 2:15 am PDT Friday, April 28, 2006

The tiny winged torturers thirst after Glen Elliott’s blood.

“They eat me up,” he pronounced grimly. “All day, all night, all day, all night. They chase me in swarms.”

“He hasn’t been able to get a decent night’s sleep in several days,” chimed in his companion, Tracey Knickerbocker, 45. The pair have been sleeping under a bridge since high river waters swallowed their previous camp.

Desperate to ward off the mosquitoes that have multiplied in puddles left by a too-long winter, Elliott and Knickerbocker swaddle themselves in blankets at night. Eventually, they get so hot that they can’t bear it. They slather themselves with repellent, if they have any. If they don’t, they’ve taken to begging Loaves & Fishes officials for anything chemical that might grant some relief. WD-40, applied directly to the skin, works very well, Knickerbocker said.

“It’s not good, it says ‘don’t do that,’ but it keeps them away,” she said.

In certain respects, spring weather offers homeless people in Sacramento a welcome change after so many cold, rainy months. But warm temperatures, combined with high river waters, have ushered in a new set of problems.

Mosquitoes are one. Suzi Ettin, a nurse at the Loaves & Fishes homeless service complex, worries about her charges. She tells them to wear long sleeves and – with a bit of wishful thinking – to avoid being outside at dawn and dusk. Still, bites itch, dirty fingernails scratch, and already Ettin is dealing with infections.

Given the looming specter of West Nile virus, the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District made a point to visit Loaves & Fishes on Thursday. Employees delivered baskets filled with thousands of repellent wipes, and promised to send tens of thousands more.

Beyond nurturing the mosquitoes, spring weather and high water have had other consequences for the homeless.

Perhaps most obvious: It has driven them from their dwellings in the shadows and brush of the American River. The winter overflow shelter closed in March, and now many homeless people say they don’t know where to go. Every evening, dozens gather around the corner from Loaves & Fishes on Ahern Street.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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