Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Homeless Evicted

This is an article published on the End Homelessness site:

How to Distmantle a Tent City
by Shannon Moriarty

Published April 15, 2009 @ 06:55PM PST

It was a reporter's dream: a state with a Hollywood governor, a city with a former NBA star Mayor. In the shadows of that city's skyscrapers, along the banks of the River America, lay a modern day "Hooverville." In recent months, this tent city scituated on the outskirts of Sacramento attracted non-stop media attention- domestic, international, and Oprah- as the "face of the American economic crisis."

But today, this encampment of 150 to 200-or-so homeless people (most of them chronically homeless) is gone. Mayor Kevin Johnson ordered its removal last Thursday. Today, the last of the people who called this tent city home have no choice but to move on.

Despite the media fascination with Sacramento's tent city, life for its residents has not been easy, according to the LA Times:

The tent city sprawls along the river in small clusters of ersatz neighborhoods. Walker and her neighbor, Charly Hine, 38, have pitched their tents at the distant edge to stay away from noise and trouble.

Gibson's tent is in a separate, small, neat grouping. One neighbor displays an American flag and a goose with the word "welcome" on its breast. It is a favorite subject, its owner says, of news photographers. Another has a mailbox and a gate.

The largest and most raucous neighborhood is composed of about 70 tents closest to the street.

Near noon, Tammie and Keith Day are drinking beer around a cold fire pit, worrying about how she'll get her diabetes medication and fretting about whether officials will shutter the tent city.

"We're homeless and being evicted?" Tammie fumes. "Now I've heard everything."

Clearly, the media glare has left Mayor Kevin Johnson uncomfortable and unsure of how to handle the situation. After an countless of meetings and summits, he announced that the current tent city would be closed. At the same time, he announced, the city is considering the feasibility of a permanent homeless encampment and looking to increase the number of city shelter beds.

Right. First clear out the tent city and then decide what you're going to do with the people. Makes perfect sense.

Suffice to say, Sacramento homeless advocates are not happy. In fact, things got heated today as the clearing out got underway, according to the Sacramento Bee:

Sister Libby Fernandez of Loaves & Fishes, which provides services to homeless men, women and children, led a group of advocates demanding a moratorium on camping citations and pushing for a place where people can camp legally and with basic services including toilets and garbage pickup.

"We've been campaigning for this for more than a year," she said. "Now we're back to square one again."

Fernandez and others said they will engage in nonviolent "civil disobedience" if campers are forced to leave, and will risk going to jail to make their point.

So the big question that remains is this: where are these evicted homeless campers going to live?

The answer? Another tent city, of course.

Most of the 150-200 campers are moving just a short walk down the American River levee to a growing tent city (Sacramento Tent City Version 2.0, we'll call it). Although the encampment is on private property, police stay it still violates the city's law against camping. Could this mean it's just a matter of time before these homeless people are evicted again?

You know what they say. You can take the people out of tent city, but you can't take the tent away from the people.

Stay tuned... this story isn't over yet.

No comments: