Homelessness & the Parkway: Crucial Coverage of Important Issue

Exactly what the Sacramento Bee provided us Sunday, with a major front page article on the Parkway and Richards Blvd area impromptu homeless feedings and a Marcos Breton column—after going along with Bob Slobe on the mandatory tour for anyone claiming to speak authoritatively about illegal camping in the Parkway (a member of our board, Marie Collins, went with Bob some years ago and her article in Sacramento News & Review  reveals how bad it was in 2004)—which nails it.

1) First an excerpt from the front page article.

“It’s Sacramento’s newest type of drive-by.

“On Thursday evening, a car pulled up to a few dozen homeless people gathered along a curb north of downtown. Three young men jumped out. In a flash, they handed out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, water bottles and packages of crackers.

“We’re giving back,” Jaskarn Singh Johal of Yuba City stopped momentarily to say. “In our culture, (our) religion … we have to give back to the community.” Then he and his companions drove off for another delivery a few blocks away.

“The three young Sikhs are participants in what has become a controversial trend in the River District, a warehouse area just north of downtown that is in the midst of transition to a mixture of offices and housing.

“Business owners and residents complain that dozens of good Samaritans, often informal religious-based groups, are turning sidewalks, empty lots and street corners in the district and the nearby American River Parkway into group feeding zones.

“They say the feeding areas are littered with debris, food wrappers, bottles and worse. Sometimes different groups drive up to the same spot at the same time to distribute food. Locals say they fear the street feedings are enticing even more homeless to the troubled area. They’re seeking action from city and county officials, who say they’re trying to find a way to limit the food giveaways, either through cooperation or – if need be – an ordinance.

“The River District for many years has been a homeless magnet because of its concentration of social services and plentiful hideaways for sleeping by the river. The increase in drive-by feedings follows national news in 2011 spotlighting Sacramento’s homeless problem.

“That coverage, an embarrassment to the city, culminated with the police breaking up a large tent city near the river. Since then, the homeless have scattered into smaller, dispersed camps, Sacramento County officials say.”

2) Now an excerpt from the Breton column.

“A dear friend of mine – a Catholic priest – often encourages me to remain “on the side of the angels” when writing about social issues.

“I’m trying, Father.

“But on the issue of homelessness, I’m on the wrong side of conventional wisdom in liberal Sacramento.

“This is because the well-supported push for homeless justice in Sacramento has resulted in many injustices.

“The people who act out of love and compassion for our most downtrodden will often show no compassion for the people who get in their way.

“The issue reeks of hypocrisy in Sacramento, just as certain pockets of the region reek with urine and human excrement.

“To even state it that plainly – to portray the issue as anything other than earthbound angels helping modern-day Tom Joads – is to be called a “hater.”

“I don’t hate anyone or anything, but I do have eyes and I know what I see.

“Last week, when I visited one of the prime spots occupied by homeless in this city, I saw Sacramento’s homeless issue in a nutshell.

“First off, the Joad family – the fictional Depression-era heroes of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” – is not living on the American River Parkway.

“I didn’t see any casualties of California’s wretched economy. Ask anybody outside the sanctified circle of homeless advocates and they will tell you: The people who are out there have been out there for years.

“In the language of the streets, there are some bad dudes out there. Large dogs protect illegal encampments and stashes of pornography are all over the place.

“There are mentally ill people and people who will take the food that church groups put out there – but that’s it.

“It seems they don’t want to be in shelters.

“As you walk along trails meant for hiking and horseback riding, you see tents on one side and toilets the other.

“What kind of toilets? The kind you find in nature: People relieve themselves on the ground and leave scattered pieces of toilet paper in piles.

“When that smell hits you, it only punctuates an unsafe feeling as you go deeper into the parkway.

“I went with Bob Slobe, whose family transferred 400 acres of the parkway to Sacramento County in 1989. By his own admission, Slobe is known as a “hater” by Sacramento’s homeless advocates.

“He’s definitely angry – and with good reason, as his family’s former land has become virtually unusable.”

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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