Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Today's news from the homeless front

Mayor Kevin Johnson. Photo from a recent Sacramento Press story.
This morning, minutes before 7AM, as I was part of the crowd standing in the North C Street cul-de-sac, waiting for Friendship Park to open, a news van for Fox40 News parked on the street and their news crew began filming.

Minutes later, after I'd made my shower reservation in the park, and was leaving the park, headed toward the wash house, I nearly bumped into the mayor who was heading into the park.

There was a bit of excitement -- Kevin Johnson's here! Kevin Johnson's here!

A little later, clean and fresh smelling, I returned to the park and the mayor was nowhere to be found, but the news van was still parked on North C with its fireman's-ladder-like antenna extending high into the sky. [Update: HERE'S the report from Channel 40. I note that they call the campground Camp Safety in the headline, but Safe Ground in the report.] [Further Update: Loaves & Fishes' website has news on the mayor's visit to "SafeGround."] [Further Update: In a demonstration of how feckless the once-mighty, now-sapped Sacramento Bee has become, their story on the KJ visit is simply a link to the Fox40 reports.]

I ran into Costa Mantis, who rose to prominence in Homeless World filming daily Live from Tent City onsite video reports last April, until that encampment was rousted. Costa is now filming video, again, this month, relating to Safe Ground. [Update: Costa Mantis's 8.12 video, "SAFE GROUND KJ GOES TO CAMP 08 12"]

Costa and I talked a bit about what had happened last night and about what the mayor hoped to accomplish with his effort. Later, we were joined by John Kraintz, our city's most prominent homeless homelessness leader.

From what I understand, the mayor, with some aids, arrived at the Safe Ground encampment at about 10PM and spent the night. Not many people got a lot of sleep with the news crew there, lights, and all the excitement.

It is hard to see how the event serves the mayor politically: the homeless remain mostly unpopular in the city and have little political clout. Perhaps the mayor is just following his heart and "doing the right thing."

Suggestions for the "Safe Ground movement"

Arrogant fellow that I am, I feel a need to put out some recommendations of what those that are leading the so-called Safe Ground movement should do.

It may seem niggling, but is highly important, that the term Safe Ground / Safeground / SafeGround be careful and narrowly defined so as not to confuse the public. Also, please please settle on how it's written: one word? two words? one word with the S & G capitalized? It's a curious and highly disordered thing, right now: Safe Ground [or, is it SafeGround?] is the name of a non-legal encampment of up to fifty homeless people that exists today. Yet, the idea of Safe Ground had meant a legal, sanctioned camping ground for the homeless. But even within this subdefinition there is unresolved confusion. [See SacHo's blogpost from last April "What does 'safe ground' mean?"]

The Safe Ground movement needs to resist argot and stridency that understandably strikes the public as being far-left politically. The homeless people in our city are already marginalized and don't need to be further marginalized from support that might come from the whole of the city, including staunch conservatives.

I would prefer that the effort to establish a legal homeless campground be successful. I believe the best hope of achieving this requires great sympathy from us, the homeless, and the homeless-help industry, for the predicament the general public finds itself in in today's economy. I think that empathy/compassion for others is required to engender empathy/compassion from others for the problems that homeless people are having these days.

I don't think that the SG movement should be strategic and legal-team led. I think it should opt for being authentic and mature, even integral. It should resist mischaracterizing the homeless population in Sacramento, showing the homeless population as it is, worts and SSDI checks and all. And care should be taken not to employ manipulative donation-seeking techniques.

I am also bothered quite a lot that this Safe Ground movement, in Homeless World Sac and in the Mayor's Office, is inhaling all the oxygen when a lot of that is needed for the more-immediate crisis: Doing something to provide shelter this coming winter for Sac'to homeless folk!

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