It’s the Parkway Stupid

This article from the Sacramento Bee nails it, it really is that bad down there and the author repeats what North Sacramento and Woodlake residents have been saying for years about their area of the Parkway.

It really is all about the Parkway and what’s happening to it. The tragedy of Sacramento homelessness has been overwhelmed by the tragedy of the impact of the homeless on the American River Parkway.

We offer two strategies; absolute, enforced, zero tolerance for illegal camping in the Parkway, and creating a homeless transformation campus at Depot Park capable of handling the homeless population in Sacramento, with more info on our website.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

I have no idea what the American River Parkway used to look like, but I’ve heard stories about its beauty between Discovery Park and Campus Commons. About how people once didn’t fear riding bikes, jogging or walking along trails that criss-cross the dense stretch of woods and water.

It’s hard to imagine that now.

There have been fires. Dozens have seared the drought-ravaged underbrush and reduced massive trees to twigs this summer. People who care about the parkway are understandably furious about the destruction.

But that’s only half the story. The other half I learned one recent Saturday morning when I took part in the Great American River Clean-Up, put on annually by the American River Parkway Foundation.

About 1,600 volunteers came out and collected more than 17,000 pounds of trash. Most of the volunteers were upstream, between Sacramento State and Folsom. I spent almost three hours with crews closer to Discovery Park.

What I saw – and unfortunately smelled and fortunately avoided stepping in – taught me this: We don’t need to wait for fires to destroy the American River Parkway. Homeless campers are already doing it.

This isn’t the Tent City made famous by the Oprah Winfrey Network during the recession. This is something else. Something far more disturbing and, quite frankly, more disgusting.

As one longtime foundation volunteer told me, while pecking away at a disgusting pile of trash deep in the woods: “I used to worry about the people out here. Now I worry more about the parkway.”

It’s not hard to see why.

Camp #1: Needles, needles and more needles.

“Look at this!” Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna shouted at me from a knot of trees.

Along with a couple volunteers wearing sturdy shoes and carrying trash bags, this was the first stop that morning. It was an abandoned camp, with a fire ring under low-hanging tree branches, a tarp and a metal hook shoved into a tree.

I trudged over, deliberately looking away from another volunteer who was figuring out how to deal with a bucket of diarrhea. Dozens of used needles were all over the ground near Serna, the used syringes and orange caps dangerously out in the open.

“Watch what you pick up,” he said. “This is exactly what happened to me.”

Serna, while volunteering for another parkway cleanup, accidentally stabbed himself with a used needle. He had to take a month’s course of antiviral drugs – a fate he says he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy. In that moment, I was suddenly glad that I had doubled up on my work gloves.

Many – park rangers invariably say “most” or “all” – of the homeless campers are struggling with addiction. Heroin, opioids, alcohol, you name it. Finding needles is so common that rangers keep containers in their trucks to store them. An empty water bottle also will do in a pinch.

Addiction, of course, makes it harder to convince those campers to seek shelter. So does mental illness, which often accompanies addiction. Many of the campers are “chronically homeless” – a particularly stubborn population to help, but one that advocacy group Sacramento Steps Forward believes it can drastically reduce by late next year.

“Addiction is king, and that must be satisfied first,” said Ryan Loofbourrow, executive director of Sacramento Steps Forward. “(But) that doesn’t mean, through housing and services, we can’t overcome that.”

Camp #2: Dumpsters are cleaner than this.

We got an odd look from a woman on a bicycle while bending down to scoop up candy wrappers, cigarette butts, fast-food bags and discarded clothing into our trash bags. The thick underbrush was filled with the stuff, just choked with litter. Even around a makeshift fire pit.

She circled back a few minutes later. She looked angry, as if we were destroying her campsite.

One park ranger told me it hasn’t always been this way. She has worked the parkway for years, and says while there have always been homeless campers, they didn’t always treat the environment like a garbage dump. Echoing Pope Francis, she speculated that it’s a symptom of our “throwaway culture.” Even for people of little means, stuff can always be replaced.

Read more here:

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.
This entry was posted in ARPPS, Homelessness. Bookmark the permalink.