Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Future of Tent City

An area in Tent City, as pictured by KCRA.
The encampment east of Loaves & Fishes in Sacramento is getting enormous attention nationwide for being emblematic of the souring economy.

It many ways, this is unfortunate since the encampment is real, not a symbol. The people living in tents there are actual, factual, and not iconic -- not empty husks for Media and others to use to frame other problems.

Still, Media attention, for all its hype and falseness, brings welcome benefits (even if they come for wrong, misguided reasons).

Right now, there are people and organizations with a fount of unalloyed compassion that are lovingly giving to homeless Sacramentans. There are others who may or may not be just as compassionate who have an angle -- an organization they belong to that needs a revenue source or a job they want funded down the road.

Homeless citizens of Sacramento, particularly those in Tent City [aka, the Wasteland; the Snakepit; Smudville; Libbyville; Almond encampment; SacraTento; Safe Ground (a name Val Jon Farris gives it in one of his viddies) and (according to a John Kloss editorial cartoon in the 3/12 issue of SN&R) Shackramento], should be on their guard!

There are many out there who want a piece of the Tent City action. L&F CEO Libby Fernandez is openly trying to wrest control of the encampment for Loaves & Fishes and link the encampment with her conclave of nonprofit enterprizes on and near North C Street.

In a recent KCRA texted report titled "Loaves & Fishes: Don't Bring Food To Tent City," there's this:
Sister Libby Fernandez, the executive director of Loaves & Fishes, said those who bring goods to Tent City are creating a major health hazard.

Fernandez said rats and seagulls go after the trash and bring their diseases along.

"It's really not a very good thing to do," Fernandez said. "For one thing, you have to have trash pickup. You bring things out there like clothing, suitcases food, water ... it just builds up an accumulation of trash."

Fernandez said she thinks homeless residents need to find help off-site and shouldn't be catered to.
Volunteers of America is perhaps a more-logical choice as a organization to administer Tent City. Because of the souring-economy pullback in county services, VOA has lost a lot of its business, and with the close of Winter Shelter at the end of this month, they will have even more skilled people available for work.

To VOA's discredit, their administration of Winter Shelter isn't well thought of. The worst of it is the staff at Winter Shelter, a joyless, imperious lot, who make the experience for those staying at the shelter unnecessarily unpleasant.

A third candidate organization to participate in running Tent City is iCare-America, which was incorporated only eight weeks ago by a soon-to-be-homeless former corporate consultant, Val Jon Farris. Farris made a splash in the media by bringing donated supplies to the encampment and has quietly expressed interest in gathering camp leaders, perhaps as a means for his organization to aid the encampment at governing itself.

The fourth possibility is that Tent City, itself, could govern itself, on the model of Portland's Dignity Village. Dignity Village has Articles of Incorporation, a Board of Officers, bylaws, and a contract with the city/county. It even has a Tent City Toolkit [an interactive DVD] its staff has created to aid in the creation of self-governing tent cities that might arise elsewhere -- in places like, mmmm, let's see, SACRAMENTO.

Tent City already has the beginnings of governance with Luis Morales acting as a leader.

The residents of Tent City would benefit by mobilizing themselves to assure that they have some say in the development of a permanent encampment.

First, it would be good if the encampment decided on its name. "Tent City" is probably too generic. Names like the Wasteland are depressing and won't gather support from Sacramento citizens and its government. Names that are overly exultant, like Friendship Park and Dignity Village, have an Orwellian or Stalinist cast, and will unecessarily irritate conservatives and truth- and freedom-loving liberals.

Next, if they haven't already, the encampment should put together a putative Board of Directors that can interact with the county and city, and agencies that are licking their chops to get a piece of the Tent City action.

And, then, of course, this being the 21st Century, there needs to be a website for the tent city.

You rock, Tent City! The time is ripe. Be wary. Be wise. Do well. Prosper.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, thank you for putting voice to these concerns. As someone who has crossed paths with the iCare organization, I too have many doubts about it's integrity and validity.

The iCare website is quite revealing. Under the Corporate tab the donation percentages taken by iCare left me aghast. With the standard being a maximum of 20 cents on the dollar, these numbers are close to 40%.

That alone makes one question the real intent behind the organization. The last thing that I would want to contribute to would be an organization that in any way exploits people at such a dire point in their lives.

March 12, 2009 at 8:17 AM  

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