Monday, April 6, 2009

What does "safe ground" mean?

At the Loaves & Fishes webspace, on a FAQ sheet for Safe Ground, the term is defined thus:

Safe Ground is a ... location where the homeless can camp legally with access to basic needs such as running water, toilets, and trash cans. Safe Ground does not yet exist.
The above is how people understood the definition when the first "safe ground" rally was held in December, last year.

On the L&F fact sheet, it says a successful Safe Ground is supposed to have these four attributes:
  1. It is self governed. The campers are responsible for maintaining order and enforcing the rules they choose for themselves.
  2. It must be sanctioned by the City and County government. The City and County must give permission for the Safe Ground to exist.
  3. It has access to basic sanitation – running water, toilets, and trash.
  4. It has a non-profit sponsor.
This is too-sly by half. Dignity Village in Portland, perhaps the very best example of a successful legal tent encampment, is truly self governing. It has a board of directors responsible for all elements in running the community. There is no need for the fourth item on the attributes list, a funds-diverting non-profit sponsor. [Is L&F jonesing to get a fee from the city or county, you think?]

Lately, things have changed.

In a flyer at L&F's Friendship Park, the term "Safe Ground" seems to be eroding.

The flyer is for an April 21 "Rally for Safe Ground." It says that the effort hopes to rally support to ...

"legalize" a safe campground(s) where homeless folks can have running water, bathrooms, and trash services until our City, County and State are willing and able to provide adequare shelters and affordable housing for the growing numbers of homeless folks due to our depressed economic times.
Note that there now seems to be a caveat that hadn't before been there:

The campground (i.e., Safe Ground) is BY DEFINITION, TEMPORARY. The campground(s) will be there until shelter and housing meet demand OR the economy turns around (i.e., isn't "depressed."), which could happen, by some economists' definitions, in about a year.

This seemingly benign clause can undermine the effort to create a legal encampment. As spartan as life at dwindling Tent City may seem, creating a homey residence is the result of investment and effort. For one (obvious) thing, you have to buy and erect a tent! And, you become a part of a community.

If you look at the pictures of Dignity Village, you see that the community -- like all communities -- evolves and changes. Dignity Village has significantly morphed into a village with dozens of wood & plywood structures. If you look at some of the video of Camp Hope (aka, Tent City) in Ontario, you can see how it has changed: From a more-ramshackled unorganized gathering of camper trailers and tents to what looks like 1950s suberbia, with deluxe EDAR tents.

A Sacramento legal encampment should be given a opportunity, similar to Dignity Village and Camp Hope, to get uplifted over time. If a Sacramento Safe Ground is, by definition, temporary and 'only' there to cover for inadequate shelter space, How can you expect homeless people to feel secure to invest in the effort to make a homey place, a base for people to rebuild their lives?

The response of the city of Sacramento to Tent City has been to remove the encampment by the end of this month. And then, to make bed-space available to the displaced in an expanded (by 50 beds) Overflow shelter at Cal Expo; and by finding housing for, perhaps, 40 people; and, perhaps, by creating very temporary space for a small number of tents somewhere at Cal Expo.

These efforts, done at great expense, are unlikely to sop up demand for healthy and helpful sleeping and living situations that can get people to believe they are moving in a direction toward feeling that one day they will be productive and fully human, again.

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