Public Safety & the American River Parkway

The underlying premise in this Sacramento Bee editorial regarding the illegal camping by the homeless in the Lower Reach of the American River Parkway, is, as the editorial notes: “Like it or not, the health of the American River Parkway and homelessness are inextricably tied. One can’t be addressed without tackling the other.”

If that means what it seems to imply, that our local homelessness issues need to be resolved before the public safety issue in the Parkway is resolved, that is wrong.

Public safety in the Parkway is a single local issue that needs to be resolved—as are all public safety issues—immediately.

Local and national leadership and organizations such as ours who feel the need to do so, will continue, as they/we have for several years, to work on the long-term issue of homelessness whose resolution is obviously years in the future.

Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna is absolutely right, as the editorial reports: “The first urgent priority, he [Serna] says, is to restore safety. To that end, he wants a stronger law-enforcement presence dispatched to the most impacted areas of the parkway immediately.”

An excerpt from the Bee editorial.

“Anyone who regularly travels the lower reaches of the American River Parkway near Northgate Boulevard has encountered the ugly scene: Scores of homeless encampments dot the riverbanks. Fires have been started and trees chopped down to accommodate the campers. Tons of trash they leave behind cover the parkway.

“County park officials, police and the homeless themselves say it’s not a new phenomenon. The heavy rains last month and releases from Folsom Dam flooded low-lying areas, forcing campers who’ve always been there to move to higher ground, making them more visible. In some cases, water rose so fast, campers were forced to abandon their belongings. Now that the river has receded, waterlogged tents, sleeping bags, bottles, plastic bags, and other debris have pooled into giant piles, along with human waste, an unsightly and dangerous mess.

“The problem is exacerbated by the county’s budget crisis. There was no overflow shelter opened at Cal Expo this winter. A lack of revenue has forced supervisors to slash the number of park rangers from 23 to just 11.

“The two rangers who once were dedicated to park security and regularly dispersed illegal campers and confiscated their belongings are no longer available.

“Local residents, business owners, bike commuters and legitimate park users are alarmed – with good reason.

“Some want the homeless forcibly removed immediately. Without a safe and legal place for them to go, that’s hardly a solution. Like it or not, the health of the American River Parkway and homelessness are inextricably tied. One can’t be addressed without tackling the other.

“Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna understands that. He spent Thursday night among the illegal campers as part of the county’s biennial homeless count.

“The first urgent priority, he says, is to restore safety. To that end, he wants a stronger law-enforcement presence dispatched to the most impacted areas of the parkway immediately. That’s a good and necessary first step, but authorities can’t just order campers to move on without giving them a safe, legal place to go. That would just move the problem from the parkway to city streets, storefronts and neighborhoods.”

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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