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Sacramento homeless march to call for a campground
Published Thursday, Jul. 02, 2009
The day after Sacramento's temporary homeless shelter closed for the season at Cal Expo, more than 250 homeless people and advocates marched to promote their latest idea for providing beds for Sacramento's growing homeless population.
What organizers call "Safe Ground" sites would be legal campgrounds where homeless people can live without fear of being arrested for crimes associated with homelessness.
City officials, including Mayor Kevin Johnson, have said they want to learn more about the idea.
"The mayor's inclined to support 'Safe Ground,'" said spokesman Joaquin McPeek. "But at the end of the day we need to make sure that it makes sense and we do the proper research."
Johnson said Wednesday in an e-mail that, " 'Safe Ground' needs to be further researched to see if it will work as a temporary solution to Sacramento's overall goals regarding homelessness."
Wednesday's march began at Loaves & Fishes, where the participants, including homeless men hardened by years of outdoor exposure, families, shelter volunteers and one miniature horse, set out along Richards Boulevard. Cars honked their support, people chanted "What do we want? Safe Ground!" and others sang 1960s-era protest songs.
Michael Harris celebrated his 50th birthday at the march. Harris has been sleeping outside in various locations in Sacramento for about two months.
"I try to liken it to camping, but it's my everyday life," he said.
Harris said a legal campground would be a relief from the stress of finding a place to sleep every night.
"It makes you feel so much better if you know you have a place to lay down," he said.
"You can think better, make decisions, maybe plan for a move."
Sister Libby Fernandez, Loaves & Fishes executive director, said after a tent city north of downtown was dismantled, clients told her they wanted a city-sanctioned outdoor space for them to live. That spurred her and other advocates to push for a safe and legal plan for them.
Wednesday's rally was timed to the closure of a seasonal shelter at Cal Expo, which left more than 200 people to seek other shelter.
"I was staying at Cal Expo," said Gabriel Evans. "I have no idea where I'll stay tonight."
Evans, 29, said a legal campground would be safer than living on the streets. Evans still has tattoos from his time as a Norteño gang member. He said he's now targeted by his former allies and enemies alike.
Sacramento Police Officer Mark Zoulas, one of two officers dedicated to working with the homeless, said he's in favor of a legal campground, but has reservations.
His concern, he said, is about friction between campers and nearby residents.
Rodney Frazier held his 17-month-old son, Demarius, on his shoulders as Wednesday's marchers gathered at a vacant lot on Richards Boulevard – like the kind of unused lot advocates say could become a legal campground.
A single father, Frazier is looking for safe and permanent housing for himself and his son. He supports the idea of a legal campground, but says it wouldn't be appropriate for children.
A few miles from the rally, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell held a media conference to address a rise in homeless students across California.
O'Connell announced that California received $13.8 million in federal stimulus money to assist homeless children.
"These students, through no fault of their own, don't have that basic central home environment," O'Connell said at the Transitional Housing Program for Families on 32nd and V streets.
Several area districts qualify to apply for the one-time funding. Sacramento City Unified is eligible for $42,950; San Juan Unified for $60,050; Twin Rivers Unified for $116,930; and the Sacramento County Office of Education for $296,500.
Homelessness in Sacramento schools rose from 5,120 in 2007-2008 to 6,111 in 2008-2009, according to data released Wednesday by the Sacramento County Office of Education.
Call The Bee's Julie Johnson, (916) 321-5287. Bee staff writer Melody Gutierrez contributed to this report.
We are in the great depression of 2009. Now is the time for us all to reach out and help others as we can. In so doing we also redeem our own souls. We should look at the failure of our present elected politicians to address these critical social issues.
Register to vote! Oust failed politicians out of office in the next election cycle. We have always had the numbers, the hands and the blessings of the Creator! A social democracy is only as relevant and viable as the people who get directly involved and paticipate in the creation of a true representative, proportional and participatory democracy!
Wake up Amerika! The vaunted American dream has become a real nightmare for millions of people across the country and around the globe.
US Out of the Middle East! Combat Terrorism! Feed the People!
Education for Liberation!
Peter S. Lopez ~aka: Peta
Sacramento, California, Aztlan
Yahoo Email: firstname.lastname@example.org