A Tent City in 2009

By Dr. Chad Audi

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.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “A Tent City in 2009

  1. g2-d2b8fd9e1f01849e3b68bd4d659f50cc

    Greeting, Dr. Audi,

    My name is Tom. I’ve been homeless for nearly a year here in Sacramento and have blogged “Sacramento Homeless” [forgive this plug: sacramentohomeless.blogspot.com ] since December.

    Frankly, I think the “great concern” of Sacramento officials was to promote business in our splendid city by removing the close association of ‘Sacramento’ with ‘homelessness’! [And that is an understandable concern.] Unemployment is especially high here; our booming metropolis has taken a big hit. Getting rid of Tent City gets the media to move on to something else somewhere else.

    It is very very understandable to us homeless why the tent dwellers are reluctant to get moved to ‘Overflow,’ the fairgrounds facilities where they will be directed to stay. The rules that will be imposed on them are already known, since the shelter there has been in operation, at a smaller scale, since before winter. [I’ve stayed at Overflow for ~14 days, total; I usually stay at a mission shelter north of downtown.]

    At Overflow, the homeless are picked up in midtown [at the Loaves & Fishes facility] at ~4pm, and then bussed to a restricted area at the fairground, known here as Cal Expo. The homeless are ‘locked in’ at the shelter with little to do for, effectively, 16 hours each day. The meals are not “warm” and I’m not sure what “vital services” you might be referring to. [There is an outside bathroom, of course.]

    For no reason other than it is “the culture” that has emerged, the staff at Overflow is cranky and bossy and arbitrary and a bit sadistic.

    There are no showers; the meals are repetative and small. [I had ground-meat-&-macaroni with chopped brocolli-stalks many days in a row; cereal and single-serving oatmeal alternate for the 5am breakfast.]

    On the men’s side [Things are similar on the women’s & children’s side, btw.], at the absolute-gender-segregated facility, there is a so-called TV room where two DVD movies are shown nightly. But the “room” is at the junction of three areas where men are passing constantly, so there is constant noise and guys walking in front of you. Plus, the staff turns off the movie at whim or for meals or to distribute bedding.

    If you don’t try to watch the movies [which are almost always violent], there’s a smoking area, or you stay at your bunk to chat with the other guys or read.

    Getting even temporary work is difficult-to-impossible because of the time-devouring nature of how Overflow operates. It’s a purgatory on earth. If anyone is unhappy about being homeless, staying at Overflow will put you into a hopeless, depressive funk. It’s dreary and compassionless: Welcome to Gulag Sacramento!

    Guys leave Overflow by bus the next morning with the drop-off at Loaves & Fishes. [Even guys who get booted from the facility are taken to Loaves & Fishes, by taxicab.]

    • Hi Tom:
      Thanks so much for your very personal perspective on this issue. You are living it. Please keep us updated on the tent city and homelessness in Sacramento, as well as your own situation. May God bless you.

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