Parkway Rangers & The Parkway’s Skid Row

Parkway Rangers:

We now have 25 Rangers looking out for our County Parks and Parkway and that is the most in a long time.

They are doing some pretty good work out there and it is often dangerous work.

They deserve our continuing gratitude and always our best wishes.

You can give them a gratitude shout-out at http://www.regionalparks.saccounty.net/Rangers/Pages/RangerStewardship.aspx

The Parkway’s Skid Row:

Skid Rows develop largely as the result of inaction by public leadership—or wanting to contain a problem—allowing a public area of a city, or in this case, of a park, to sink into degradation by not appropriating the proper resources—including leadership—to ensure it remains safe and welcoming for residents and other visitors.

That this has happened to the Parkway from Discovery Park to Cal Expo and the long period of time that public leadership has allowed illegal camping on the Parkway is why it has—sadly and tragically for the adjacent neighborhoods and the homeless—become the Parkway’s Skid Row.

According to this April 21, 2017 article from the New York Times, this allowance is a status that has existed for many years.

Some excerpts, with bolding added:

SACRAMENTO — For Robert Friend, home was a tent pitched down by the American River off 12th Street. It was quiet, secluded in the bushes, a respite from life on the pavement downtown.

Or at least it was until the storms came.

“I got flooded out,” said Mr. Friend, 48, looking weary on a recent afternoon as he stood on the sidewalk he had escaped to a few blocks from the river. “This is the worst winter I’ve known in the 10 years I’ve been here. Last night and the night before I was just under a tarp, waiting it out. It was freezing-raining all night long.”

The rains that lashed California this year, continuing with yet another wave of downpours through last weekend, have pulled this state out of a historic drought. But they also exposed the extent and agony of homeless women and men who have long made homes along the banks of the now-swollen rivers across California, and particularly in Sacramento, a city of 480,000 where a largely hidden community has lived on the outskirts since the Great Depression. According to city and state officials, about 2,700 of the 118,000 homeless people in California live here….

Cale Traylor stood a few feet from a blue tent close to the American River, a dog barking in the background, late last month. The people who live here call themselves the River Dwellers, Mr. Traylor said, and he was once one himself.

Mr. Traylor, 37, slept not far from this spot during a five-year binge of alcoholism, drug abuse, petty crime and homelessness. He knows how to navigate this world that was once his own: Keep a respectful distance when approaching; carry a bone to distract an unleashed pit bull that might come bounding out of the brush.

There was a rustle inside the tent, and James Guidi, a Vietnam War veteran, emerged, a dazed look on his face.

Mr. Guidi, 65, said the riverbanks had been his home for eight years, and he is one of the few who has stayed here through the winter. The night before, he slept in a tent left behind by someone who had wandered on. But earlier in the week he had to sleep on the ground as the storms blew through, tearing away the tarp that provided him scant protection.

“I slept in a puddle,” Mr. Guidi said. “It was more terrible than any time I had in Vietnam. I can compare it to over there.”

Mr. Traylor’s struggle with homelessness began when his father committed suicide in 2010, when he was 30, and continued until he was sent to the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi in 2015 for stealing a car and trying to outrace the police. When he disappeared after his father’s death, his family wrote him off as a lost cause.

Mr. Traylor said he was sober now, studying electronic automation at Sacramento City College. He sees his mother and sisters regularly.

“There used to be a ton of cover,” he said, pointing to a spot along the river. “It was an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality. If the police can’t see you, then they typically leave you alone. When the water went up, it washed away all their coverage.”

Mr. Guidi said he didn’t care that his campsite was largely deserted as people fled the rains. “I’ve been living by the river here and there, off and on, for eight years,” he said. “People get along.”…

The storms have forced women like Susan Zemansky, 58, who has been homeless since she lost her job at a Subway sandwich shop four years ago, out of the bushes. Ms. Zemansky, peering out of a slit of her tent on a sidewalk on B Street, told of huddling for warmth as the rain pounded on her tent before she escaped.

“The river was coming up way high,” Ms. Zemansky said. “The rangers came and made us move. We had 20 minutes to get out of there, 20 minutes before we flooded.”

Ms. Zemansky is now easy to spot, another homeless person living along the street, watching the cars drive by. People stop by to offer supplies — “bananas and stuff” — and words of encouragement. But she said she was eager to return to her spot on the river.

“There’s a lot of traffic here, and you’ve got to get up every day and pack,” she said. “I’d rather be by the river. The river is peaceful. It is quiet.”

Retrieved April 21, 2017 from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/us/californias-deluge-of-rain-washes-away-a-homeless-colony.html?_r=0

Marcos Breton wrote an excellent column in the Sacramento Bee this past Sunday http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/marcos-breton/article154026369.html about the Parkway, indicting Supervisor Phil Serna—in whose district the Parkway Skid Row is located—will ask for a doubling of money for parks.

We do support more money for parks but still believe the problem is largely not lack of money but lack of political will. As the Breton column notes, West Sacramento has solved the illegal camping problem on its side of the river.

An excerpt:

“As a city, we can do better to help people such as Samuel Cunningham, whom I met this week when walking the parkway with Serna.

“Cunningham, 35, is a former drywall worker who lives near the river. He became homeless after a back injury prevented him from working and found temporary refuge at the Union Gospel Mission near the railyard before heading to the parkway. He got meals at nearby Loaves and Fishes, the city’s massive homeless charity.

“He said he once lived on the West Sacramento side of the river but won’t go back because authorities there strictly enforce a no-camping ordinance. “They don’t play,” he said. “They arrest you and throw your belongings in a dumpster. They held me for six hours and then released me in Woodland in a beautiful pale blue jumpsuit and flip-flops.”

Retrieved June 5, 2017 from http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/marcos-breton/article154026369.html

This is not a good way for people to have to live and this is not a good way to treat our Parkway.

We can do better on both counts.

Maybe more political will, rather than more money, is what is really needed.

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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