California Forum

The Conversation: Homeless in the parkway

A large homeless camp near Discovery Park was badly burned when a fire spread into brush and the canopy of trees in August.
A large homeless camp near Discovery Park was badly burned when a fire spread into brush and the canopy of trees in August.

Last Sunday’s Conversation asked: How should Sacramento deal with the homeless camping in the American River Parkway?


It’s time to try something else

Re “Cleanup reveals chaos in imperiled parkway” (Forum, Erika D. Smith, Sept. 4): If I were defiling public property the way homeless campers are defiling the American River Parkway, I would be in jail. Liberal thinking has brought us to this double standard.

If all we can do is to keep wringing our hands over the problem, we will never solve it. These unfortunate people should be permanently housed in institutional settings, where they could be warm, well-fed and safe. I know a proposal like this would be greeted by howls of protest, but will someone please tell me how leaving them living in filth and exposed to the elements is more humane than keeping them in safe institutional surroundings where they can receive medical help and perhaps counseling?

We can see what liberal hand-wringing over individual rights has brought us. It’s time we tried something else.

Janet Quesenberry,

Elk Grove

You can’t clean up homeless people

As a daily bike commuter and homeless advocate, I found Erika Smith’s column offensive. I ride along this section of the American River Parkway on my commute to work and have never once felt fear. I have worked directly with homeless individuals in Sacramento and in other communities, and have never once imagined viewing homeless people as a problem to be “cleaned up.”

While I appreciate the concern for the parkway and recognize the need to address the prevalence of fires, this perspective on homelessness is problematic and counterproductive. If Smith and others are indeed concerned about homeless campers, perhaps they should become part of the solution rather than criminalizing homelessness.

We need more affordable housing in this city. We need to stop criminalizing homelessness and looking at the people who experience homelessness as a problem that endangers those of us who are privileged enough to be stably housed.

Terren Wing, Sacramento

Homeless problem without solutions

Erika Smith identifies in graphic detail numerous, common problems associated with chronic homelessness in urban areas. She fails to acknowledge the city’s and the county’s failure to provide sufficient services to ameliorate such problems, including, for instance, a free needle-exchange program with readily available, easily disposable sharps containers, outreach, addiction recovery, mental health care, targeted medical care, shelters, supportive housing, etc.

The burden cannot be placed on charities and nonprofits alone. Most of these people who are chronically homeless also are disabled. Most are in the woods because those who want them out of sight drove them there. We should provide public services to help solve these problems rather than complain about symptoms of an epidemic that will only get worse.

Ron Elsberry, Sacramento

Arrest and remove the campers

Camping in the parkway is illegal and should not be tolerated. These illegal campers must be arrested, at night if necessary, and removed from the parkway immediately and on an ongoing basis.

A program must be established to offer a path to sobriety, mental health, permanent housing and employment. Darrell Steinberg noted that state funds are available to treat those suffering mental illness. Perhaps he can help set up such a program.

Once in the criminal justice system, these hardcore illegal campers should be offered a choice between the program or prison – their choice. We can rescue the parkway and these poor souls at the same time, and we must do so now before the only thing left of our beautiful parkway is ashes.

Lawrence Bernstein,


It’s a tragedy for the parkway

This column nails it. It really is that bad down on the American River Parkway, and Erika Smith repeats what North Sacramento and Woodlake residents have been saying for years about their area of the parkway.

It really is all about the parkway and what’s happening to it. The tragedy of Sacramento homelessness has been overwhelmed by the tragedy of the impact of the homeless on the parkway.

We offer two strategies; absolute, enforced, zero tolerance for illegal camping, and creating a homeless transformation campus at Depot Park capable of handling the homeless population in Sacramento.

David H. Lukenbill,


senior policy director,

American River Parkway Preservation Society

Sacramento, the city that cares

Finally, Erika Smith is shining a light on the biggest reason for homelessness, which is drug addiction. We, as a truly compassionate community, have a moral obligation to do what we can to help. Treatment for drug addiction doesn’t always work, but at least it offers a chance.

Susanne Westley,


Silence in response to fires

Erika Smith, Marcos Breton and Supervisor Phil Serna all raise serious issues concerning the American River Parkway and the silence in response to the causes of fires and the homeless. All are correct to request public dialogue. A hot summer and the drought have created a perfect storm that threatens residents, public safety personnel and those who recreate on our parkway.

The board of directors of the American River Parkway Foundation understands the challenges of having a large river parkway adjacent to a densely populated urban setting. We also recognize that the county and the city have been trying to balance the rights of illegal campers with the needs of the parkway.

We support a renewed, open discussion about the challenges to our public safety personnel, the rights of illegal campers and other parkway users, and the protection of our natural resources.

Scott Wolcott, president

American River Parkway Foundation

Mary Navarro – I probably would let the homeless stay in the parkway but have rules. Set up designated campsites. Charities could help them with basic supplies. I would build park-type bathrooms and have a regular crew keep the area clean. These are people with serious mental health issues and need to be protected.

Tonya Alston – Homeless people need homes, social services and mental health care to help them reclaim their dignity. Not all homeless people are drug addicts. There are homeless people who work but cannot afford astronomical rents.

Kathy Allen – Create a public space with showers, bathrooms, small dwellings and other necessities where they can live. They aren’t going to go away, so stop pretending they are.

Paula Lomazzi – Most of the homeless population living on the parkway have been forced into hiding by the anti-camping ordinance. They have not been allowed to have portable toilets. Maybe a few people have been offered housing but probably not very many of them. That’s the answer to the problem – end the sleeping ban and find services, shelter and housing appropriate to their needs.