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Forced off the River Parkway

 Homeward Street Journal (USA) 14 March 2019

Even as the storms of February rolled across the Sacramento valley, bringing cold and stinging rain, forty-five tents of the self governing homeless organization, “Safe Ground Sacramento” were tagged and scheduled for removal or destruction by the authorities within 48 hours. (768 Words) - By Cathleen Williams


HSJ_ forced off the river parkway

Rangers giving Safe Ground elder, Buzz, notice to move. Photo courtesy of Homeward Street Journal

The tents were neatly pitched in a wooded ravine along the American River Parkway, close to downtown Sacramento but far from public view, and maintained with sanitation, garbage disposal, and a common pledge to keep the camp free of drugs, alcohol or violence. There are usually between 45 and 65 people camping together in the Safe Ground community on public land, not condoned by the authorities.

This was not the first time in recent days that Safe Ground has been forced to fold their tents and load their possessions on to their backs or bicycle carts. Their previous encampment on the parkway was on high ground to avoid the floods - but visible from the freeway. Police and park rangers posted notices on February 9th that the camp was illegal.

At the same time as the February 9th homeless sweep, Sacramento County Board Supervisor Phil Serna raised about $25,000 to pay for thirty-two beds at Salvation Army that would be made available for sixty days. These beds were offered to the campers even though there is an waiting list of over two hundred for shelter at "Sally's."

More than a hundred homeless people attended an Safe Ground open meeting on February 11th to ask questions and make their demands of guest speaker Tim Brown, Director of Sacramento Steps Forward - the organizsation that oversees Sacramento's continuum of care. Why were Safe Ground's homeless members being offered the 32 beds? Was it to make the County look like it has a realistic alternative to living outside - even though there are over 200 people on Salvation Army's waiting list, people who have waited for days, weeks, to qualify. What about the disabled and the seniors who need shelter desperately?

The offer of a few dozen beds was part of a strategy by local politicos to mount an attack on homeless people for "choosing" to live outside. One County Supervisor, Phil Serna, claimed in the Sacramento Bee on Tuesday, February 15th that it was "futile" to try to help.

Yet just this year, the County's winter shelter program has been eliminated due to budget cuts, and now, instead of actual beds, about a hundred homeless people are bussed out to area churches to sleep on the floor in what they're calling the "Winter Sanctuary". And there are waiting lists of hundreds more who are desperate to get out of the severe weather.

To achieve the vision of establishing safe, self-governing communities of simple cabins, Safe Ground Sacramento is continuing to mobilize. After over a year of appearing at City Council meetings and speaking out, Safe Ground Sacramento and the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee are moving to make their demands at the County Board of Supervisors, and is receiving widespread support from the local media and the public as a whole.

"We have nowhere else to go," says one Safe Ground leader. "All available open land has been fenced and we have been threatened with citation and arrest if we camp anywhere in the City. You can't arrest your way out of homelessness. There is no housing available to us. The shelters are full with long waiting lists. The rain is coming. We are trying to survive."

The Safe Ground campers moved from the wooded ravine to another spot on the parkway about a half mile away, but were again given notice to move. With a cold storm expected, several local churches opened their doors to Safe Ground for several days, allowing them a short respite from the storm and a chance to regroup and come up with a plan to counter the relentless attacks. The 32 shelter beds were made available to the most vulnerable and elderly homeless Sacramentans, still leaving well over 1,000 people with no other option but to sleep outside this winter.

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Originally published by Homeward Street Journal ©

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