Sacramento Tent City Update
Last week I took a look at the growing Bushville on the American River in Sacramento, which has been garnering national attention as a powerful symbol for these troubled economic times. It was clear at that time that the city government led by Mayor Kevin Johnson needed to do something to ameliorate the situation. The decision has been made.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson promised to first make alternative shelter space available for the estimated 150 men and women who inhabit the squalid encampment near the American River, at the edge of the city's downtown.
Johnson, who toured the area with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger a day earlier, said he hoped to have the ramshackle settlement cleared of tents and debris in the next two to three weeks.
"We want to move as quickly as we can," he told a news conference, insisting the city was determined to treat the tent dwellers with compassion.
"They are people out there. We have to do whatever we can do," he said. "We as a city are not going to shy away from it. We're going to tackle it head-on."
Advocates for the homeless applauded the mayor's action. Municipal authorities in Sacramento have been debating the fate of the tent city for weeks.
150 seems like a very low number, when news outlets have reported as many as 1,200 homeless staying in the encampment. Of course, that could simply be a matter of media overhype (local shelter organizers apparently fed this as well). However, even if the numbers are correct, finding shelter space for 150 deals with those made homeless as of today. With unemployment skyrocketing, there will be more left homeless tomorrow. And next week. And next month. While most in the encampment did not fit the profile of the "recession homeless" (a closer look reveals that the tent city grew out of multiple closures of other shelters, which is probably because of the recession anyway, so we can go around and around on this), such a group does exist and will need help over the next year as the state struggles. The fact that so many homes lie vacant and are owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, i.e. the US taxpayer, suggests there are solutions to this problem beyond the short term if creative solutions are made.