As this editorial from the Sacramento Bee reports, a tent city exists—and as North Sacramento knows, has existed—in and around the American River Parkway for years.
Local leadership, caught in the opposing viewpoints of services offered based on no effort by the homeless to improve, which attracts the homeless to the area; and services offered based on an effort to change, seem powerless to protect the Parkway.
While individual leadership efforts representing each viewpoint, such as Mayor Kevin Johnson and County Supervisor Phil Serna respectively, are to be deeply applauded for their even attempting to engage with this volatile issue, the ease with which most leadership is able to essentially ignore a problem not impacting them directly, remains the animating strategy, which is very unfortunate.
An excerpt from the Bee editorial.
“I visited Sacramento’s newest tent city Thursday morning. It stretches about a half mile on the dry side of the American River levee where the river meets North 10th Street. There are about 100 tents there, spread out along the fence line in clusters behind a series of warehouses and parking lots.
“When I visited, the place was surprisingly neat. Campers had erected a makeshift toilet. Their excrement, collected in big plastic garbage bags, is deposited in the restrooms at the Loaves & Fishes complex. They carry their trash out, too, to a Dumpster there.
“The homeless people I met there were what I expected. Half the men I interviewed had spent time in prison, some of them more than half their lives.
“Others appeared to be mentally ill. Andrew Hankins told me he was 21 years old. He could not look at me but stared at the ground, confused, almost catatonic. I met a 24-year old woman who told me she had been a special-ed student at Elk Grove High School. Child Protective Services had taken her 4-year-old daughter from her recently. She lived in a tent with her dogs and was on a waiting list for housing.
“A woman who called herself Butterfly insisted she was not homeless, that she was a “pioneer.” She ranted loudly at reporters visiting that day, flitting from one subject to another. Her fellow campers told me she was a gifted cook who prepared communal meals for them.
“I met an out-of-work truck driver who said he couldn’t afford to pay his traffic tickets and lost his job and his commercial driver’s license. I met an out-of-work carpenter and another unemployed man who said he used to work in a mattress factory in Oakland that closed recently. Before that job, he’d worked as a roofer. I met a mechanic who said his tools were stolen.
“The campers I met told me they have no place else to go, no families to take them in and the shelters are full. They have come together at this spot for self protection, for warmth and for companionship.
“The debate rages about what local governments should do to help the homeless. The people I met were not seeking government handouts. They just want what they call “safe ground” – a legal place to camp, permission from authorities to lay their heads down at night, somewhere, anywhere they won’t be arrested and their possessions confiscated.”