Weeklong Stake Down event to spotlight Sacramento homeless issues

Published: Monday, Apr. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 29, 2013 - 8:48 am

A weeklong event billed as both cultural and consciousness-raising will get under way Wednesday in an effort to spotlight issues of homelessness in Sacramento.

Stake Down, scheduled to run through May 7, is organized by Safe Ground, a group that seeks to move homeless people off the streets and into permanent housing and jobs by providing safe temporary shelter and services. Activities will be held at 12th and C streets, on property owned by Mark Merin, a Sacramento attorney and advocate for the homeless.

"It will be a cultural event that will bring energy into the neighborhood," said Cathleen Williams, one of the organizers. Artists, poets, musicians, labor leaders, faith groups and service providers will join in performances and group teach-ins, focusing on different themes each day.

Homeless people, with Merin's permission, camped on the site for several weeks in 2009 in violation of city codes regarding camping and drawing protests from neighborhood residents.

Steve Watters, executive director of Safe Ground, said the group has abandoned its initial campaign to create legal campgrounds for the homeless and instead seeks sites to construct 50 to 60 small cabins and a community center.

A prototype cabin, designed by local architects and built with the help of Habitat for Humanity, will be on display at Stake Down. Watters said he hopes the week's activities will help city leaders and the public see the possibilities for solving the problem of homelessness.

"It's to show the prototype cabin for our community project, to show here's what we propose and here's what people have to do today," Watters said.

He said he hopes people will see the benefits of Safe Ground's plan for city-approved cabin communities over current tent camping, which runs afoul of city codes and requires the homeless to pull up stakes and move each day.

The plight of homeless people and their effect on neighborhoods were the focus of a city-sponsored meeting last week to address concerns of residents in the surrounding Alkali Flat and Mansion Flats neighborhoods about the Stake Down event.

Recalling problems with illegal camping at the site in 2009, neighborhood resident Falcon Lee said he feared a repeat, particularly in light of Stake Down's request for a permit allowing overnight camping during at least three nights of the event.

"It is wrong that the downtown-midtown neighborhoods continue to shoulder the bulk of the homeless and disenfranchised. To all those smug elected officials who live without the homeless next door and are allowing this travesty: You need to walk this mile and realize what a burden it is for us property owners surrounded by the homeless," Lee said during the meeting.

Though worried about how the event would affect their neighborhood, several residents voiced sympathy for the homeless and frustration that city officials have not done more to get people off the streets.

"We need 'whales' for the homeless," said Sondra Bradley, manager of the nearby Globe Mills apartments, referring to the wealthy investors recruited in the effort to keep the Kings in Sacramento.

Watters said Mayor Kevin Johnson and Sacramento City Council members appear to be receptive to the cabin communities, which would offer social services.

"The biggest mountain to climb is to find a site we can all agree on," Watters said.

Safe Ground seeks property that could accommodate 50 to 60 of the 120-square-foot cabins, along with a community center. Several organizations have expressed interest in helping fund the project once Safe Ground secures the property, Watters said.

The prototype solar-powered cabin was constructed at a cost of about $5,600. Watters said a campaign is planned to encourage faith groups and service organizations to purchase cabins for the project.

Several members of Sacramento's homeless community plan to participate in Stake Down and to talk with visitors about their experiences. They also see the city-sanctioned event as a respite, a chance to put down stakes for a few days.

Out of work and homeless for the first time in her life, Mia Adrade said, "I'm tired of having my existence defined as camping … I want to live. I want my life back."

Youvon Smith said he is 60 and a Vietnam veteran who has worked most of his life.

"Things happened in my life that led me to be homeless," he said. "At my age, I just can't keep moving and moving all the time. This event will give me a chance to rest."

For a calendar of Stake Down activities, go to http://homeward.wikispaces.com/StakeDown.

Call The Bee's Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.

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