Genuine Solutions or Temporary Fixes?

Posted: March 26, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Compassion, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Politics

I’ve been keeping tabs on the upcoming dismantlement of Sacramento’s Tent City.

Slated to be fenced off by the end of next month, local officials are trying to relocate its residents.

The most recent developments include Sacramento’s City Council approval of a $1 million program to increase the number of available shelter beds by 150. In addition, California’s Governor Schwarzenegger has pledged to try and find additional state funding to add 50 more beds to the Cal Expo winter shelter.

While all of this is fine and dandy – at least as far as I’m concerned – I still have a number of questions which keep popping into my head.  

For example –

I realize that Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson only took his Oath of Office this past December. Subsequently, he has to address an issue left behind by his predecessor. Of course, Mayor Johnson did make a campaign promise to "confront homelessness" in the city. So, to all appearances it seems that he is trying to make good on that promise.

However, I have to wonder if he would have moved as quickly had the city’s Tent City not made national (and international) headlines after it had been spotlighted on The Oprah Winfrey Show several weeks back.

It seems somewhat peculiar to me that the tent city has been there for so many years but the Sacramento’s officials hadn’t done anything of substance to help those folks. Yet suddenly – with the eyes of the world watching – they were able to act swiftly.

Are they really interested in addressing homelessness? Or, are they just trying to wriggle themselves out of the media spotlight through perfunctory actions?

As for Governor Schwarzenegger’s visit there last week to "survey the situation," I have to wonder if it was more for appearances sake than anything else? After all, Sacramento is California’s Capital city. However, he has been Governor of the state for a number of years and hadn’t visited before. Moreover, I don’t seem to recall reading in the media that he has "surveyed" the homeless situation in any other California community.

There is another thing which continues to bother me also: the winter shelter at Cal Expo.

Normally, the shelter would be "closing for the summer" at the end of April. Now – or least for this year – it will remain open until June 30.

I think it’s great that the Governor is going to try and find state funding to add an additional 50 beds to the facility. And I think it’s great that it will remain open the extra couple of months.

But, I still have to ask: what will happen to those folks come July 1?

Does the city have a contingency plan for that? Have city officials figured out a way to ensure that those folks will have alternative shelter available? Or will those folks, once again, be forced to find public places to sleep?

I’ll be the first one to admit that finding effective solutions to remedy homelessness isn’t an easy task.

Historically, the methods used by most cities have been meant to hide the homeless rather than help them. This has been done through the adoption or strengthening of local ordinances designed to curtail and restrict the homeless from performing life sustaining activities in public places.

However, these tactics have always seemed foolish to me since the homeless live in public places – which is a by-product of not having a place to live. So, why punish people for what they don’t have?

With regards to Sacramento’s tent city, I genuinely hope that these actions of Mayor Johnson and the city council reflect a new way of thinking; a new and effective approach toward helping the homeless.

I also hope that all of this isn’t just a temporary fix designed to deflect public outcry and media criticism.

Hopefully, Sacramento’s local media will keep this issue in the public’s eye well beyond July 1. Otherwise, after the story has been relegated to the "back pages," the city’s leaders may revert to ignoring the needs of their homeless.

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