Monday, January 26, 2009

Bee endorses tent encampments

Picture of a Sacramento campsite which appeared with the online edition of the Bee editorial.
The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board says “Give tent city a try.”

In robust support of an experiment to see if the establishment of tent encampments can work in Sacramento - as they have in Seattle, Portland and Phoenix - the editorial board of the Bee wrote in Sunday’s edition of the newspaper that “a tent city provides an immediate answer to an immediate problem. It is a humane, if imperfect, response to one piece of the homeless puzzle."

Here, a snip from the heart of what the board had to say,
...a legalized tent city is controversial. Strip away concerns over location, and one is left with an ethical quandary: Is it acceptable for society to sanction people living in tents and makeshift structures? Should Sacramento be condoning a Hooverville?

These important questions need to be balanced with others: Is it acceptable for authorities to keep rousting the homeless from illegal encampments, month after month? Would a sanctioned encampment be a more humane alternative? Would it possibly reduce the problems caused by illegal encampments along the American River and other places? …

Tent cities should not be seen as an end-all to problems of illegal camping and destitution. Equal effort must be devoted toward affordable housing, mental health services and strategies to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.
The editorial also gave special mention to Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon. It said that that self-run homeless camp was "clean, orderly and safer than living on the streets." Dignity Village is self-governing, elects its own board, determines rules and bylaws, and directly interacts with service providers.

In an article in last Thursday's Bee, both the police captain and Sacramento's new mayor expressed tentative support for the encampment idea. Capt. Dana Matthis said "What we are doing now is not working, so let's take a hard look at other options." Mayor Kevin Johnson said, "I don't know if [establishing a tent encampment] is something every city should do, but it's certainly something our city should be looking at."

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