Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Idealistic fervor on display at Loaves & Fishes news conference, today

Sister Libby Fernandez began the formal part of her press conference this morning saying, "Shame on us. Shame on our government." Whatever shame there was on "us" was unnamed and forgotten while the local government bore the whole of accusations that were deemed shameful.

At issue are three shelter closures at the end of June, all run by the local chapter of the organization Volunteers of America. The three shelters that are scheduled to close, due to lack of funding, are Winter shelter [aka, Overflow] (204 beds, plus 18 couch sleeping spaces) and the Aid-in-Kind shelters on A Street and on Bannon Street (an aggregate of 142 beds).

The pronouncement that 346 beds are being cut [204+142=346], [or 328 beds; though I don't know how that total was derived] as several speakers claimed today, is a dubious statistic. Winter shelter, as its name suggests, has not in the past been a shelter for all seasons. In years past, the shelter has closed at the end of March. It is only this year that the bed capacity was increased and the duration it will be open was extented three months into early summer.

It truth, based on years past, there will be a shelter-space loss of 122 beds beginning on July 1st, unless funding comes forth to increase summer capacity. Winter shelter was extended twice this year. Its bunkbed spaces have never been funded for the summer. The two Aid-in-Kind shelters have, in the past, cut back from 142 beds to 122 beds in the spring. Currently, beds for summer residents are not funded.

Still, concern for there being greatly inadequate shelter space beginning on July 1 is valid. And disgust with local government [primarily, the county, but the city, too] exists because they had seemed, in the wake of the Oprah-inspired media blitz of compassion for the homeless, to find means to meet demand. But now, with huge deficits projected for their new fiscal years, beginning July 1, the city and county representatives have chosen not to fund homeless shelters at all.

Shelters in Sacramento are now full. I am told or know personally that Union Gospel Mission and Winter shelter were both full last night. Salvation Army, St. John's and Mary's House are each full with waiting lists.

Leo McFarland, President and CEO of VOA, said at the press conference that the Department of Human Assistance, the county's welfare operation that oversees VOA, was hoping to save one or two of the shelters scheduled for closure. But McFarland opposes this effort, to save just two, as inadequate.

SacHo is hopeful that just ONE of the VOA shelters remain in operation after June 30, in slimed-down, short-hours, no-frills mode. Winter shelter SHOULD close; it's a nightmare operation that gobbles up homeless people's time. ONE of the Aid-in-Kind buildings should be run on-the-cheap, made to hold 120+ people with hours from 8:30pm to 6:30am, serving dinner and breakfast on either side of an eight-hour sleep period.

SacHo is also hopeful that Loaves & Fishes will "walk the walk" and make available the large empty lot now on its property for a small legal tent encampment.

And SacHo expects that police must fully stop rousting homeless people, with or without camping gear, when they sleep outside.

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