I listened to this discussion outlined in this Sacramento Bee article and was reminded of how difficult it is for government to manage at the ground level and how much better the Parkway would be under management of a nonprofit organization, as Central Park in New York City is, something we wrote about in our research report: The American River Parkway, Governance, Ecoregionalism and Heritage: A Vision & Policy Primer, Nonprofit Daily Management, Regional Thinking and the Preservation of Our Heritage.
An excerpt from the Bee article.
One thing is clear from Sacramento County’s discussion Tuesday about safety and homelessness in the American River Parkway and adjacent neighborhoods: Residents, business owners and homeless advocates are fed up with the status quo.
A day after a new report documented the rapid growth of Sacramento’s homeless population, county supervisors spent several hours discussing options for increasing patrols and debris removal on the 23-mile stretch of the river parkway and in county suburbs such as Carmichael and Arden Arcade. But the Board of Supervisors ultimately delayed a decision until August, when it may have a better grasp of how the county may scrape together the millions of dollars necessary to fund new efforts.
Homeless camps were more visible last winter as heavy rains forced people out of the brush and onto paths and into surrounding neighborhoods. Over the last few months, some cyclists have reported being attacked by dogs or hit by rocks by men they believed were homeless.
Sacramento State professor and frequent parkway user Kevin Wehr told the board he was assaulted less than two weeks ago on the bike path next to the Blue Diamond factory in Sacramento by someone who was obviously mentally ill. The path serves as a popular link between downtown and the American River Parkway.
“So if I – a fit, 6-foot-tall … male – am not safe, I really don’t know who is,” he said.
Fear of using one of the county’s premier public amenities colored many of the speakers’ comments. Nearly 30 people spoke during public comment and dozens submitted letters before the meeting. Residents called for stronger efforts in the parkway, more enforcement in neighborhoods and concern that any increase in law enforcement will be ineffective without added shelter space.
Joan Burke, director of advocacy for homeless services nonprofit Loaves & Fishes, said people are living on the parkway because they have nowhere else to go. She and other homeless advocates said the county was too focused on clearing out homeless people without finding services and housing for them.
“Law enforcement does not address homelessness, and it’s extremely expensive,” she said. “I would ask you to consider spending the $5 million to provide additional emergency shelter for homeless people. That money could provide a 200-bed shelter and that would remove people from the parkway.”
Supervisor Phil Serna, county staff and other supervisors responded by saying the county had just approved $6.5 million in new services for homeless people. That includes a full-service shelter that would provide beds for 75 people a night and help homeless people move into permanent housing, but it wouldn’t open until 2018 at the earliest.
Serna wants increased parkway enforcement to coincide with the opening of the shelter.
Supervisors have been hearing anecdotally for months that there are more people on the streets than ever before and the population has expanded from downtown and the parkway into suburban neighborhoods. Released Monday, Sacramento Steps Forward’s biennial point-in-time count of Sacramento County’s homeless population backed up residents’ claims – the number of homeless people without shelter jumped 30 percent to 3,665 people in the last two years, spread throughout the county.
During June’s budget hearings, Serna proposed multimillion-dollar increases for the county parks budget to deploy more rangers and sanitation workers on the parkway. Supervisor Susan Peters countered that homeless campers would move into the surrounding neighborhoods, which have already seen an influx of people on the streets. Supervisor Don Nottoli suggested a compromise, with some money going to the parkway and some to the neighborhoods.