In a recent blog, I mentioned the “tent city” in Sacramento, which has come to represent a particularly disturbing reality of our depressed economy. At last count, about 150 homeless people have set up tents along the banks of the American River. Now comes word that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is pledging to find state money to help Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson close the tent city and relocate the homeless to an expanded shelter on the state’s fairgrounds and to other local shelters and longer-term housing units. The cost to close the encampment by the end of April: $1 million.
Of course, the biggest concern among local and state officials is to make sure the homeless tent dwellers are moved to a safer, healthier environment where they have access to hot meals, fresh water and vital services. The tent city is being looked at as a new “symbol” of homelessness. It garnered even more national and international attention when Oprah Winfrey recently broadcast a segment about the encampment. Media from around the world converged on the tent city with cameras in tow. Many of the homeless did not understand what made their habitat such a “spectacle.” And believe it or not, some of the tent dwellers are reluctant to leave because they fear what type of environment they will be placed in, the rules they will have to follow, and what will happen after the fairgrounds shelter shuts down at the end of June.
This situation in California greatly illustrates the critical need for a permanent solution to homelessness. It is a chronic problem, further exacerbated by growing job layoffs and record home foreclosures. People are being pushed to the brink, finding themselves in situations they never imagined. At the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM), we are focusing on this expanded makeup of the homeless population and how we can set things in motion for their futures by offering a more permanent solution. We cannot look away and pretend homelessness is not on the rise. Desperate times call for desperate measures.