Sacramento’s Tent City

This editorial from the Bee raises several questions, but in relation to the downtown or midtown areas of the Parkway where a tent city site appears to be headed, the biggest question wasn’t raised.

What impact has the current homeless services concentration already had on that area of our community and what will be the additional impact with this new enhancement of services?

Conceptually, the idea of a tent city for the homeless—especially during troubling economic times—makes a certain amount of sense, and a case can be made that it is a compassionate response.

However, the important thing to remember about policy concepts are the details, and we need to ask what the impact has already been, and will be, with the continued concentration of homeless services in the Richards Boulevard, North Sacramento, downtown, and midtown areas, on the long-suffering residents and business people in those neighborhoods.

All of which Bob Slobe’s concerns directly address.

It is very clear that the impact on the Parkway has already been devastating and any increase in use as a homeless encampment would—we fear—only increase that devastation, regardless of the well-meant intent and whatever kind of supervision occurs.

A Google search turned up this interesting comment on the homeless encampment mentioned in the editorial, Dignity Village in Portland, the only homeless encampment authorized by a local government in the United States.

“I am a local who knows only limited things about the village, but I know a little more about the responses to the village. Of course there are a lot of people in favor of it – as it is, but they dont know how to expand it for other homeless people. In other words, it has about 60 people living there, and there is an estimated 2000 that sleep outside any given night.

“The city government is sort of at a place where they dont know what to expect if they authorize more of these villages. As it is now, because of how much trouble and controversy the village caused for the city back when it was founded, the city basically has decided there wont be any more of them. It goes much deeper than that, but there are so many entanglements about such things as fire code safety, personal liability for risk of injury (on this public property) as well as every other kind of standardized regulations for organized multiresidential establishments.

“So, I have been homeless more than one time in Portland, and I have been familiar with homelessness for about five years now in this city. The homeless people I have met, resent the village and everything about it.

“Mainly because “everyone” knows that it cannot be duplicated, or made bigger, or anything else, except to be eventually choked out by stiffer regulations from the mayor’s office. If it is not for that, it would be from several “sensitive” citizens of the same neighborhoods that simply do NOT want the homeless people nearby. The village cannot assist anyone not affiliated.”

The Wikipeida Dignity Village entry is also informative.
An excerpt.

“Designated by the Portland City Council as a campground, Dignity Village is exempt from many building codes which have traditionally been used to close down shantytowns. Shelters in the community might at any time consist of tents, hogans, tee pees, light wooden shacks, or more substantial structures built using principles of ecofriendly green construction such as hay walls and recycled wood. Light clay straw housing was built in 2003 at part of the City Repair Project’s Village Building Convergence…

“Dignity Village is aligned in general with the Green Movement although as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, it cannot officially endorse specific parties or candidates. The site has been visited on numerous occasions by politicians from various political parties, and it enjoys a good amount of political support among city politicians and political candidates.

“Dignity Village is an intentional community which endorses or practices many socialist/communal principles.

“Little information is currently available on police/fire/city service issues, although in 2004, the campsite was allowed to hook up to city sewers for the purpose of sanitary disposal of shower water. Toilet facilities are provided by portable toilets.”

An excerpt from the Sacramento Bee Editorial.

“After years of debate, Sacramento city and county officials are studying several sites to create a legal encampment for the homeless near Loaves & Fishes in Sacramento.

“Not surprisingly, the idea is coming under harsh attack from some property owners in the area. Critics such as Robert Slobe fear it will further burden the Richards Boulevard area with blight and add to trash, fires and other problems along the lower American River Parkway.

“No doubt the idea of a legalized tent city is controversial. Strip away concerns over location, and one is left with an ethical quandary: Is it acceptable for society to sanction people living in tents and makeshift structures? Should Sacramento be condoning a Hooverville?

“These important questions need to be balanced with others: Is it acceptable for authorities to keep rousting the homeless from illegal encampments, month after month? Would a sanctioned encampment be a more humane alternative? Would it possibly reduce the problems caused by illegal encampments along the American River and other places?”

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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