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Safe Ground Moving Forward

 Homeward Street Journal (USA) 27 May 2019

(Originally published: 11/2009) Safe Ground Sacramento may have lost the piece of ground on C Street, but the organization and the homeless people that are involved in the campaign can’t seem to be thwarted, they can’t be stopped. Safe Ground continues forward toward their goal of decriminalization of homelessness and establishment of a self-governing campground (or more recently envisioned tiny house community) with water, garbage service and sanitation, with some basic services.  - By Paula Lomazzi

Homeward Street Journal

Courtesy of Homeward Street Journal

Safe Ground for a Time

Homeward Street Journal reported that Safe Ground campers had leased a vacant lot from Mark Merin on C Street on August 21. Four days after they found their new home, police served them an eviction notice. On Sept. 2 police stormed Safe Ground in mass and tore down over 30 tents and confiscated them along with sleeping bags and other "evidence" of camping. That same afternoon many of the tents were replaced by supporters and by evening most of the campers returned, having no other legal place to go. Two days later anywhere from 18 to 22 police descended upon the C Street lot and arrested 17 people for the crime of camping. After the arrestees were released they had a meeting to decide whether to move or stand their ground. They decided to stand their ground and moved back on to the lot but this time they moved out every day before 7:00 AM. September 12th the police came in before 7 am and arrested, this time, 15 homeless people. Upon release, only a few of the Safe Ground residents went back to the C Street lot and they stayed there without tents and at night only. A rotating pair of supporters spent every night with the homeless people that had decided to stay.

One neighbor and the City of Sacramento filed two separate lawsuits against Mark Merin and his wife, the owners of the vacant lot. The remaining Safe Ground residents decided to vacate the lot on September 20, before these cases went to trial so that Mr. Merin would more likely not have to suffer worse consequences. Mayor Johnson also urged the campers to vacate and promised to work hard on establishing a legal option for them. He said that they should obey the laws until that time. They were not ever able to obey the anti-camping ordinance because there is not enough housing or shelter and it's against the law to camp on public property and against the law to camp on private property for more than 24 hours.

When the people that were arrested (sometimes twice) showed up to their court date on October 15, they found out that they were not going to be prosecuted by the DA. The next day the confiscated tents, sleeping bags and the rest of their property was released from evidence.

Pleading with City Council

Safe Ground Sacramento had a rally outside Sacramento City Hall and marched around the building on September 10, chanting for leniency for the Safe Ground residents, to quit the arrests and harassment, and for "Safe Ground Now!". Supporters have scheduled meetings with City Council Members and County Board of Supervisors to introduce them to and try to convince them that the Safe Ground plan is both needed and would be a benefit to Sacramento. Safe Ground Sacramento's homeless members started testifying at City Council meetings every Tuesday during open comments session. They continue to do so almost every Tuesday. They are not only talking to the council members, the Mayor and the City Manager, they are also talking to the public that watch the meetings on TV.

Community Support

After the C Street Safe Ground site was lost, Safe Ground still continued in vitality. Supporters continued to increase. The Democratic Party of Sacramento passed unanimously a resolution in favor of Safe Ground. They said they would also work towards its realization by using the issue when interviewing candidates and using their influence in many other ways.

In September of this year, Safe Ground Sacramento received the prestigious California Reinvestment Coalition Panther Award "for outstanding efforts to create safety and community for the homeless" The award was accepted by Sr. Libby Fernandez, Executive Director of Loaves & Fishes and John Kraintz, Board member of Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, who both educated the ceremony attendees about the realities of homelessness.

Timothy McCarthy from Portland, Oregon's Dignity Village came to visit and support Safe Ground Sacramento by sharing his many years of experience, from starting a tent city for homeless people to helping to maintain a self-governing community that started as a tent city and became a village of small houses for about 60 people.

Supporting the Community

Not only did they gain supporters, Safe Ground homeless people became involved in other community activities. On September 21 many homeless people were hired to picket for two county labor groups. They saw the connection of possible layoffs and the need for Safe Ground because if laid off they may eventually end up needing some safe ground.

United Nations World Habitat Day was celebrated in Sacramento on October 5 with a Habitat for Humanity Build. This event was called "Safe Ground ... Homeward Bound" to show connections between homelessness and the call for a "Safe Ground," the foreclosure crisis and the need for safe, decent and affordable housing in a sustainable community environment. In order to highlight these issues, homeless people from the Safe Ground community worked all day side-by-side with members of the community, elected officials and corporate leaders to help build the Sacramento Habitat for Humanity's home on Forest Street in Sacramento.

Movable Sleep

Okay. Its illegal to camp on public property. And it's against the law to camp on private property for more than 24 hours. Safe Ground Sacramento has been emailing, facebooking, tweeting, having Sacramento Bee articles written about, their new call to action, a call for land owners to allow the Safe Ground campers to stay on their land for one day at a time. They would stay one night and then travel together to the next participating vacant lot, possibly in an orderly parade. This is still a hard way to live, but this dedicated group of homeless people desperately want to live without disobeying the law. They don't want to get citations or be arrested for sleeping outdoors, and that's the only place they have to sleep.

Now

After the Safe Ground residents left the C Street lot, they found places to stay together more out of sight, not any more legally than when living on Merin's lot. They moved around a lot, taking all their possessions with them when they woke up in the morning. When the rains recently started, they naturally went to the only place they could find to be protected from the coming storm - under a bridge. Soon after they arrived under the bridge, knowing full well that the rains would start that evening, police came by and told everyone they had to leave immediately. Many left, and none had their tents back from impound, yet. Some stayed under the bridge and were woken up at 2 AM by a police honking and shining a spotlight on everyone. They were able to stay that night without further harassment until the next day. Of course they attended the next City Council meeting to plead for some mercy, to no avail.

Mayor Johnson has kept his promise as far as helping to bring about a legal Safe Ground. He has convened a task force made up of interested parties to come up with a plan that they sometimes call "Stepping Stones" to appease the members that didn't want to become a part of "Safe Ground" for some reason but are willing to work towards a legal tent community. There are several Safe Ground Sacramento members on the task force and they are working towards not only trying to instill elements that they think are important, but are trying to reach common ground so that all interests can be satisfied or at least not opposed to a good plan. The Mayor has joined the ending homelessness effort and has spearheaded a new effort that strives to end homelessness in three years. Currently, there is much effort in focusing on getting a winter shelter even though it may not be at Cal Expo this year. This will be a great benefit to many homeless people and may save some lives, but still there won't be room for over 1,000 homeless people that will have no choice but to sleep outside.

Mayor Johnson offered Motel vouchers to the Safe Ground campers for one to four months.  The Safe Ground people said they will take them if they can stay together and if its not too far away without transportation.  They made him understand that they will all be working just as hard towards Safe Ground Sacramento's goals which may include protests and continuing speaking out for the cause at City Council meetings and at every other opportunity. They will continue to ask for a moratorium on the city's anti-camping ordinance. The mayor has assured them that special effort to provide shelter to the most vulnerable of the homeless population.

Winter approaches. The rains have begun and homeless people have trouble keeping dry. When a person that lives outdoors gets wet in cold weather, they stay wet and get colder. They need rain gear. They need changes of clothing and winter coats, socks, hats, gloves, tarps, tents, and actually, most of all, they need housing. If you would like to donate any of those items, you can bring the items to Loaves & Fishes and they will distribute the items to any homeless person that needs them. For more information visit Safe Ground Sacramento online www.safegroundsac.org.

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