Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton: Stench of hypocrisy surrounds homeless issue in Sacramento

Published: Sunday, Sep. 9, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

A dear friend of mine – a Catholic priest – often encourages me to remain "on the side of the angels" when writing about social issues.

I'm trying, Father.

But on the issue of homelessness, I'm on the wrong side of conventional wisdom in liberal Sacramento.

This is because the well-supported push for homeless justice in Sacramento has resulted in many injustices.

The people who act out of love and compassion for our most downtrodden will often show no compassion for the people who get in their way.

The issue reeks of hypocrisy in Sacramento, just as certain pockets of the region reek with urine and human excrement.

To even state it that plainly – to portray the issue as anything other than earthbound angels helping modern-day Tom Joads – is to be called a "hater."

I don't hate anyone or anything, but I do have eyes and I know what I see.

Last week, when I visited one of the prime spots occupied by homeless in this city, I saw Sacramento's homeless issue in a nutshell.

First off, the Joad family – the fictional Depression-era heroes of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" – is not living on the American River Parkway.

I didn't see any casualties of California's wretched economy. Ask anybody outside the sanctified circle of homeless advocates and they will tell you: The people who are out there have been out there for years.

In the language of the streets, there are some bad dudes out there. Large dogs protect illegal encampments and stashes of pornography are all over the place.

There are mentally ill people and people who will take the food that church groups put out there – but that's it.

It seems they don't want to be in shelters.

As you walk along trails meant for hiking and horseback riding, you see tents on one side and toilets the other.

What kind of toilets? The kind you find in nature: People relieve themselves on the ground and leave scattered pieces of toilet paper in piles.

When that smell hits you, it only punctuates an unsafe feeling as you go deeper into the parkway.

I went with Bob Slobe, whose family transferred 400 acres of the parkway to Sacramento County in 1989. By his own admission, Slobe is known as a "hater" by Sacramento's homeless advocates.

He's definitely angry – and with good reason, as his family's former land has become virtually unusable.

In and around where Highway 160 crosses the American River, you have beautiful country that for too long has been a dangerous haven for homeless people.

It begins with Loaves & Fishes, Sacramento's largest homeless charity.

Many if not most of the people living illegally on the American River Parkway use the many services at Loaves.

Sister Libby Fernandez, the executive director of Loaves, is truly a beautiful human being.

But where I fault her and others at Loaves is that they are not willing to acknowledge the growing negative effect they are having on Sacramento.

Just typing those words sends a cold chill up the spine of this Catholic boy, and for that I tip my hat to Sister Libby and her crew.

They have done a brilliant job on three fronts: recruiting powerful allies who have enabled illegal camping on the parkway; promoting an attitude around liberal Sacramento that "these poor people need to go somewhere"; and having multiple media outlets at the ready whenever authorities try to uphold the law and move homeless people out.

This has made the American River Parkway a dumping ground because the homeless remain out of sight there from the liberals who feel something must be done – but who never would allow the homeless to be near them in the nicer neighborhoods of Sacramento County.

Mark Merin, a Loaves ally and one of the shrewdest lawyers in Sacramento, got Sacramento County to agree to rules that have exacerbated the homeless problem.

When authorities want to move homeless people out, they must give them 48 hours' notice. All the homeless folks have to do is move to another part of the parkway and the notification process begins again. Brilliant.

Now that people can drop anchor in the parkway, churches and charities from across the Sacramento region are dropping food there regularly.

Some might call these food drops loving examples of charity. They aren't.

They may be well-intended, but they are creating an unsafe situation.

Please stop. Take your charity to established food banks. By making the parkway even more attractive to the homeless, you are making a bad situation worse.

The question is: Where are the authorities to uphold the law?

Where is the county's deputy chief executive, Robert Leonard? And his boss, county CEO Brad Hudson?

In the past, law enforcement in this town has been criticized for enforcing statutes against homeless camping, but authorities like Sheriff Scott Jones and District Attorney Jan Scully should be encouraged to do their jobs, not shy away from them.

What is it going to take for authorities to take action? When I was on the parkway, I could imagine unspeakable things happening in remote areas where no one would hear the screams of, say, an abducted child.

It's only a matter of time.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton



Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Email: mbreton@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton
Facebook: facebook.com/marcosbretonmartinez

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