Tag Archives: tent cities

Arnold: Cruel or Clueless?

The New York Times continues its coverage on shantytowns today, highlighting a Bushville in Fresno that has suddenly popped up.  First of all, given that Los Angeles County has 70,000 homeless people and that number has remained durable for quite some time, I welcome the national media to the issue about the homeless but don’t necessarily think that because this new class puts up tents (they do the same on LA’s Skid Row, BTW) that somehow it’s novel.  The recession clearly has exacerbated this problem and brought it to new areas in the state and the country, but that doesn’t mean homelessness didn’t exist before.

Second, our Governor is either America’s stupidest person or he thinks you are:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday that he has teamed up with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to help the homeless and has lobbied the president to speed the flow of federal dollars to address the problem […]

U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, in February announced that the city and county of Sacramento each are in line to receive $2.4 million in stimulus money to prevent homelessness.

The money will be managed by the city-county Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency.

In addition, Proposition 63, the ballot measure voters approved in 2004 to provide mental health funding, will provide “a lot of help” for some of those living on the streets, the governor said.

That would be Prop. 63, the fund which the Governor and the legislature are trying to RAID through Prop. 1E, to the tune of $230 million a year diverted to other purposes.  You can debate the pluses and minuses of that, but promising Prop. 63 funds to fight homelessness at the same time as running a campaign to take Prop. 63 funds away is either cruel or clueless.

You decide.

Sacramento Tent City Update

Last week I took a look at the growing Bushville on the American River in Sacramento, which has been garnering national attention as a powerful symbol for these troubled economic times.  It was clear at that time that the city government led by Mayor Kevin Johnson needed to do something to ameliorate the situation.  The decision has been made.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson promised to first make alternative shelter space available for the estimated 150 men and women who inhabit the squalid encampment near the American River, at the edge of the city’s downtown.

Johnson, who toured the area with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger a day earlier, said he hoped to have the ramshackle settlement cleared of tents and debris in the next two to three weeks.

“We want to move as quickly as we can,” he told a news conference, insisting the city was determined to treat the tent dwellers with compassion.

“They are people out there. We have to do whatever we can do,” he said. “We as a city are not going to shy away from it. We’re going to tackle it head-on.”

Advocates for the homeless applauded the mayor’s action. Municipal authorities in Sacramento have been debating the fate of the tent city for weeks.

150 seems like a very low number, when news outlets have reported as many as 1,200 homeless staying in the encampment.  Of course, that could simply be a matter of media overhype (local shelter organizers apparently fed this as well).  However, even if the numbers are correct, finding shelter space for 150 deals with those made homeless as of today.  With unemployment skyrocketing, there will be more left homeless tomorrow.  And next week.  And next month.  While most in the encampment did not fit the profile of the “recession homeless” (a closer look reveals that the tent city grew out of multiple closures of other shelters, which is probably because of the recession anyway, so we can go around and around on this), such a group does exist and will need help over the next year as the state struggles.  The fact that so many homes lie vacant and are owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, i.e. the US taxpayer, suggests there are solutions to this problem beyond the short term if creative solutions are made.

The Depressing Stability Of Bushvilles

I first wrote about an Ontario-area Bushville, a tent city of foreclosed Americans, almost a year ago.  At that time, it became too big to sustain itself, as people from across the country moved to the tent city to live.  The city required that only residents of Ontario be allowed to stay.

Now there’s an even larger Bushville rising in Sacramento, on practically the same spot as a Hooverville in the 1930s.  From The New York Times:

A tent city is burgeoning in Sacramento, Calif., prompting local officials to consider whether such an encampment should be made permanent, with plumbing and all.

The primitive settlement sits in the shadow of the state capitol and is home to about 300 people who have no toilets or running water, creating unsanitary conditions that advocacy groups worry could promote diseases like cholera. With the downturn in the economy and more working-class people losing their jobs and their homes, the tent city is expanding […]

This tent city is in a place of great natural beauty, between two rivers, with birds and open sky and a relatively mild climate. Homeless people have lived there for years, largely unseen, but as more working class people move in, the tents are multiplying and becoming harder to ignore.

The official count of homeless people in Sacramento is 1,226 people, and they are spilling out to the tent city because the housing shelters are full; one of the shelters is turning away more than 200 women and children a day.

Perhaps the most unbelievable part of this is that 10% of rental housing units in Sacramento, and almost 5% of owned units, are VACANT.  We have nobody in the houses and people living in the tents by the river.  And yet the housing owned by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency is maxed out.  It’s very upside-down.  

I agree with Charles Lemos that this is a test of our humanity and values as a people.  Fortunately, the generosity of ordinary people is extending beyond the policymakers.  Since a story on the tent city appeared on Oprah and the Today show, donations have been pouring in.  Portable toilets and a dumpster have been installed.

But that’s a temporary solution.  While $2.3 million is coming into Sacramento to deal with homelessness through the federal stimulus package, that’s not going to be enough if foreclosures continue to rise.  In February, the number of homes threatened went up 30% year-over-year and up 6% since January, despite several large banks agreeing to a temporary moratorium.  Five of the top seven areas for foreclosures are in California – Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Riverside-San Bernardino and Bakersfield.  While the first wave of subprime failures has already occurred, with unemployment still soaring we are starting to see unemployment-based foreclosures as a second wave.  So I don’t see any letup anytime soon, and Sacramento is going to have to meet this challenge of dealing with the wreckage of the Bush regime.