Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bee Reports on International Attention Given Sacramento's Tent City

Picture that appeared with today's Bee story, showing an Australian TV crew conducting an interview in Tent City.

Great interest and attention and benefits and detriments and wild factual errors have come in conjunction with the international media frenzy that has descended on Sacramento's Tent City.

Sacramento Bee homelessness reporter Cynthia Hubert writes about it all in a frontpage story, today, titled "Spotlight shines -- and stings" [in hardcopy] and "Some feel burned as media spotlight falls on capital's homeless camp" [in the online edition of the Bee]

Reporter Hubert does an excellent job at targetting the weirdness and inaccuracies in reports that are going out around the country and around the world. What's most troubling are great inaccuracies in the reporting of local TV stations, which couldn't be more out-of-touch if they were headquartered in Zanzibar and their News Directors were seriously psychotic.

One local TV station reported that the population of Tent City was 1,200 with 100 new residents coming to the encampment daily. Later, for its website, the station re-edited its report to say that only 50 new residents were being added daily. This data is wholly bogus. As Hubert properly reports, the true population of Tent City is between two and three hundred folks, with only a smattering of new residents getting added, daily.

Hubert also does a great service to Sacramento and the public view of this new phenomena of tent cities by writing about the true nature of the population. Tim Brown of Sacramento Ending Chronic Homelessness Initiative is quoted saying "While it's very true that we are seeing increasing numbers of middle-class familities hitting the streets, it's still a very small percentage. At tent city, 90 percent of the people are chronically homeless."

National news stories -- on Oprah and the Today Show [video] -- have misrepresented Sacramento homelessness. While these Big Media TV shows certainly sometimes-unconsciously skew their reporting such that it seems to most-directly impact their audience, it is possibly also the fault of so-called leading Sacramento homeless "advocates," such as L&F's chief executive Libby Fernandez, who steer reporters to usually-young, caucasian, formerly upper-middle-class families. Fernandez has "found" Deanna Van Slate, Favor Whitesides and her children, and nice, white Tent City families for reporters.

Judging by what makes national and international news, and news over our local TV stations, people would have to come to think that burgeoning homelessness in Sacramento comes mostly from recently displaced white families, when in truth most Sacramentan homeless people have been in the circumstance, on and off, for many, many months if not years. Most of the so-called chronically homeless are solo men. [Many of these men do have families they are not now living with, or with whom they have a strained relationship.] Most solo men are black, though you would never guess this from news reports.

What's more is that most recently-rendered-homeless Sacramentans are solo men who live in shelters, or parked cars, or sleep on the streets, or in tents within or outside the Tent City encampment.

One thing that is worrisome about the Bee report is the continuation of concentration on Loaves & Fishes as the fulcrum of homelessness and source of spokespeople regarding homeless issues. Both L&F Executive Director Libby Fernandez and Director of Advocacy Joan Burke appear as sources of "objective" information when, in fact, the situation and their leadership at Loaves & Fishes is troubling and ought to be the target of some reporting. It seems clear to SacHo that L&F is angling to benefit directly from city and county contracts that will be forthcoming to provide care for the burgeoning Sacramento homeless community.

Loaves & Fishes is beloved by the great majority of homeless people, but this comes without an understanding of the great amount of donations that come to the organization, much of which is not utilized efficiently. Despite its public face, a great many on-staff at Loaves & Fishes are not compassionate toward the homeless people the organization is meant to serve.

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