Marcos Breton: Homeless hub is destroying the American River Parkway

Published: Sunday, Sep. 16, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

If you dare take issue with homeless advocates in Sacramento, the first rock hurled in your direction is a question meant as an accusation:

"What's your solution to the homeless problem?"

I never understood how preposterous the question was until a few years ago while getting an earful from a homeless woman in the dining room of Loaves & Fishes – Sacramento's largest homeless charity.

Annoyed by my questions, the woman said something akin to: "There have been homeless people since Jesus."

Taking that idea a step further, how about this question:

If Jesus Christ hasn't "solved" homelessness, how are the city and county of Sacramento supposed to do it?

How would I do it? How would you do it?

For years, the city of Sacramento has engaged in endless initiatives to "end" homelessness.

This while we can't get senior cops to pay into their own pensions to save the jobs of junior cops. We can't build an arena or a massive skyscraper or develop the riverfront. We haven't fixed the levees the way they should be fixed, our politics are broken and let's not even mention the abandoned downtown railyard. All of those doable things are out of reach and yet we're going to solve homelessness in Sacramento?

Enough.

No one is suggesting that we shouldn't be compassionate or that people seeking shelter shouldn't get it or that homeless people with mental health and substance abuse issues shouldn't get help.

They should, but it's unbelievably unfair how this issue plays out in Sacramento.

Most people in this region get to pontificate about homelessness without ever truly feeling its effects.

That burden is most intensely felt in North Sacramento, the American River Parkway and the River District.

These are folks who have the misfortune of being so close to Loaves & Fishes and an overly saturated area of social services.

These are solid residents who feel compassion for others but who also live with a reality too long ignored.

"I've experienced a lot of things in a few years of riding that stretch (of the American River Parkway)," said Michael Heenan, a North Sacramento resident. "Each morning includes an episode of navigating between the ubiquitous pit bulls that accompany the river residents, and each afternoon requires riding through the massive pot party that takes place under Highway 160 where Northgate and Del Paso meet.

"The one thing I have not experienced is a tranquil, relaxed moment to enjoy the parkway and the river."

The American River Parkway is a jewel being decimated because it is – by virtue of politics and political correctness – the hub of homelessness in Sacramento.

Loaves & Fishes is the magnet that draws the people destroying the parkway. Allies of Loaves and Fishes have cowed local officials into inaction. While illegal camping laws are enforced in front of Sacramento City Hall, they are not enforced on the American River Parkway.

Sacramento County – in one of its worst decisions ever – agreed to a legal settlement requiring county park rangers to give illegal campers 48 hours' notice before they can be removed.

So all the illegal campers do is move to another part of the parkway and the process starts over again.

The effects on the river habitat are devastating.

"Our concern is they are ruining the flora and fauna and the ecosystem (of the parkway)," said Dianna Poggetto, executive director of the American River Parkway Foundation.

"Illegal campers have destroyed the native vegetation. We have seen an influx of invasive plants. Human feces are getting into our waterways. This is the water we all drink. It's becomes a health concern."

On Saturday, 2055 volunteers removed 14,000 pounds of trash from the parkway in three hours, Poggetto said.

It's such a curious phenomenon – Sacramento environmentalists are known to be very aggressive in going after developers who potentially harm the environment.

But if the homeless are doing it, the environmentalists get lockjaw?

Meanwhile, faith groups – some traveling from fairly long distances – beat a path to the American River Parkway to drop food for the homeless camping illegally.

This is making the problem worse for the people who live near the parkway and for the parkway habitat.

As an alternative, how about raising money to bring some of those homeless folks to your community?

Maybe Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson could convene a regional homeless summit where all communities could take on their fair share of the problem and ease the burden off the people who live and work near Loaves & Fishes.

If Mayor Johnson or Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer insist on having more homeless services in Sacramento, how about putting them in the following neighborhoods:

Land Park, McKinley Park, Curtis Park, the Fabulous 40s.

This wouldn't be a solution to homelessness, but it would be a more fair and equitable distribution of the homeless issue.

Are those of you who feel so strongly about the homeless issue willing to put actions behind your words?

Where are Sacramento's doctors and mental health experts? How about if we took the Doctors without Borders concept and applied it to the homeless issue in Sacramento?

Meantime, where are Sacramento's law enforcement officials to enforce urban anti-camping laws?

The parkway is dangerous. It's a terrible incident waiting to happen. For sanitary, safety and environmental reasons, people need to be moved out.

It's not a solution, but it must be done.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton



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