One by one and every day, some of the most desperate people in this city walk through the car tunnel on 12th Street in their search for food and maybe a little charity.
The exodus reaches a peak around lunch, when the homeless leave the Loaves and Fishes campus and make their way downtown. Some, like Johnny Lee Roberson, carry everything they have in battered suitcases. Others, like Michael Winston, ride banged-up bicycles. More than a few drag tired dogs.
Roberson and Winston were sitting on a sidewalk on the downtown side of the tunnel this week, asking for change. By night, they planned to make their way back through the tunnel to their camp on the river.
“Right now that tunnel is old and dirty, and that’s how you feel when you walk through it,” said Winston, rolling a cigarette.
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Most people just try to get through the tunnel as quickly as possible. It’s filthy and suffocating. Thousands of cars blast through its darkness every day on the commute into downtown.
Sometimes, an anonymous Samaritan leaves clothes and combs for the homeless.
“Sometimes that place is a trap,” said Roberson, a guy whom others living on the American River Parkway call “Cowboy.”
But two young artists named Sofia Lacin and Hennessy Christophel are inspired by this unusual canvas. And the city is happy to oblige, allowing the artists to transform the walls of the tunnel into a series of colorful murals. Councilman Steve Cohn gave them $6,000. The city is throwing in some new LED lights.
Lacin and Christophel are also raising money for the mural they want to paint on the underbelly of the W-X freeway, right above where the Sunday farmer’s market is held. They also painted a huge water tank in Davis.
They both grew up in Sacramento and have an art studio in the River District, the industrial area north of the downtown railyard. At a young age, they’ve become very involved in the city’s cultural scene.
Like other creative minds in Sacramento, they love the urban core and that this city still has so much room to grow. There are blank canvases everywhere, under freeways and inside tunnels.
They expect to start working on the tunnel next month. Before they came up with the final design, Lacin and Christophel spent a lot of time out on 12th Street, asking the homeless wanderers what they would paint on the walls. They were told to paint something “that felt like music,” that added depth to a bleak place.
Their work of art will be called “Contagious Color.”
“We want to bring light and attention to a place in the world that doesn’t get that,” Lacin said.
They will illuminate it, make it beautiful. So that for even a few seconds of their daily journeys, the desperate will have a little radiance in their lives.