From the perspective of some of the homeless and some of those who work with them, as reported by the Sacramento News & Review.
While this is a perspective we do not find credible (we agree with Marcos Breton) we are very pleased to see the debate deepening, as the survival of the Parkway, as well as Sacramento’s ability to move people out of homelessness, will only benefit from continued public debate.
An excerpt from the SN&R article.
“This past summer, Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton put Loaves & Fishes in his crosshairs. First, he called out the organization as an enabler of illegal camping along the American River. And then, in a subsequent column, he wrote of Loaves’ “growing negative effect” on Sacramento. This is not to mention insinuating that the nonprofit’s tacit support of campers could someday lead to “screams” by an abducted child stashed away in the parkway.
“Loaves & Fishes is the magnet that draws the people destroying the parkway,” Breton wrote, calling the situation “out of control.”
“But area experts who spoke to SN&R—from rangers to parkway nonprofit heads—don’t agree with Breton’s choice of words.
“I don’t think it’s out of control,” Sacramento County Chief Ranger Stan Lumsden says. “Some people say we’re not doing enough, some say it’s too aggressive. I think things are about right in our opinion.”
“Recently, the chief and his four full-time ranger staff began working with the Department of Human Assistance to move what are estimated to be some 200 illegal campers out of the parkway. If they encounter a camper, he or she is cited and moved out. Abandoned encampments are tagged with a 48-hour notice, then cleared. Three citations equals an arrest—but this seldom occurs, Lumsden explains.
“As SN&R reported in January, camping citations shot up 2,000 percent—not a misprint—when Lumsden took over 14 months ago. Since, violent incidents in the parkway have gone down over the past year, and rangers monitor the land near Highway 160, Northgate Boulevard and the 20th Street bridge more aggressively.
“Most agree that this lower region of the parkway near mile zero saw an uptick in illegal camping over the past four years due to budget cuts, not because of Loaves & Fishes’ proximity. Four years ago, there were about 24 rangers covering the parkway.
“And the fact is that there are now two rangers and a maintenance person for the lower region,” says Dianna Poggetto, executive director of the American River Parkway Foundation.
“Poggetto, who worked on homelessness issues before coming to the ARPF, still insists that the parkway was “being destroyed” by campers. But she also affirmed that “steps are being made in a positive direction” to make the parkway a nicer place for its 8 million annual visitors.
“And she agreed that services like those offered at Loaves—ones that “address mental-health needs, health-care needs”—are necessary, or individuals will “just fall back into the cycle.” And possibly end up camping on the river.
“Joan Burke with Loaves & Fishes reminded that those camping on the river typically suffer from severe mental-illness or substance-abuse issues.
“When people camp outside, it’s an act of desperation,” she said. “The crisis is not that the camping is out of control, but that we haven’t found better solutions.”
“Is the answer really blaming Loaves & Fishes?”