Friday, April 15, 2011

Homelessness isn't just an issue on the parkway, it pervades communities throughout Sacramento.

A homeless man walking along the sidewalk. [Graphic used with permission of sacbee.com.]
The title of this blogpost is taken from a sentence used repeatedly in a series of ten photographs of homeless people, in a so-called photo gallery of ten, "Homelessness Affects Many Sacramento Neighborhoods," taken by a Sac Bee photographer in communities outside the American River Parkway: “Homelessness isn't just an issue on the parkway, it pervades communities throughout Sacramento.”

It is good that the Bee is recognizing that there are homeless people other than those sleeping in Safe Ground camps, or next to Safe Ground encampments or in SG-organized shelters at churches. Yes, Scoopy, only about 100 people are affiliated with SafeGround while, perhaps, 1100 other homeless people live on the streets, by themselves, or in loose confederations having no connection to SafeGround. And there are others of us living in bona fide shelters, or otherwise making do as we can.

I don’t mean to be overly sensitive, but while the photographs are nice, do the existence of the homeless people who are photographed necessarily represent “an issue?” And, what issue is that, precisely? What is the innuendo, here?  exactly?

A man who had spent the night in a doorway. [Graphic used with permissio of sacbee.com.]
The “issue on the parkway” was related to unkempt camping, and homeless folk seeming to have made the American River Parkway inaccessible to joggers, bike riders and other traditional users of patches of property set aside for nature to be its splendid unsullied self. Whereas, the set of pictures seem to all be of tidy homeless folk not on the American River Parkway.

Let us suppose it is 1957 and Sacramento was segregated as it perhaps was, then. And let us suppose that a Bee photographer of that long-ago time took some pictures of Black people outside a southern section of the city where Black citizens were concentrated. And in the series of pictures this sentence appeared repeatedly: “Black people aren’t just an issue in Oak Park, it pervades communities throughout Sacramento.” Would that be cool? Would it be a sentence the Bee would stand proudly by, today, some fifty-plus years later?

A homeless guy on a bicycle. [Graphic used with permission of sacbee.com.]
I write all this not meaning to correlate 1950s Black citizens with homeless citizens. We homeless, as a group, have problems, and often present problems [it is, perhaps, accurate to say], that Black citizens, as a group, never have. But, I am bothered by the presumption that homeless citizens sleeping where they can must be presented as a “pervading issue,” albeit unspecified.

Sometimes, something that must happen and happens repeatedly isn’t that big a deal. A dog barks in the middle of the night. It’s noticed that the grass needs to be watered because there are brown patches. A crumpled sheet of paper tumbles along the street on a windy day. The air is pervaded by the scent of spring.

A time may come one day when very very poor people won't be in doorways or walking on the street with their bedroll. But will that be a good thing? Should the poor folk in our society be fully hidden away?

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