Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cleaning the mess after the homeless campers leave the American River Parkway

A Bee top-o-the-page Forum-section opinion piece, titled "Cleanup reveals chaos in imperiled parkway," by Erika D. Smith, finds the journalist aiding in the clean-up of the American River Parkway in the area where things were maximally disgusting, near Discovery Park.

Erika D. Smith's opinion piece about the great mess left
by homeless campers along the American River Parkway.
[Try not to notice my 
as a photographer. -- T.A.]
Most of what Smith writes about is the abhorrent conditions where homeless parkway campers lived with the stench of human waste, the evidence of continual drug use, and a considerable number of hypodermic needles thrown about. It's a colossal mess, without a doubt. As well, the beauty of the parkway has taken another devastating hit, further lengthening a timespan measured in many, many years (Perhaps, a decade?) for it to recover.

At its end, the parkway comes to be the whole of Ms. Smith's concern. In the middle of her piece, she quotes a long-time clean-up volunteer who says, "I used to worry about the people out here. Now, I worry more about the parkway."

Ms. Smith ends her opinion piece in what seems quiet, yet disgusted, resignation, thus:
More that any other, [a] camp, buried deep in the parkway where rangers don't often go, offered proof that people aren't just camping on the American River Parkway. Many of them don't have any intention of living anywhere else or changing the horrific way they treat the parkway. 
So, as a community, what do we do with this group of homeless people? Stopping the wildfires is one thing. That's easy. This is something else.
More cheery is another piece about homelessness in the Opinion section, titled "Don't give up on helping homeless." The Bee Editorial Board, in which Erika D. Smith is a member, writes hopefully about helping homeless people. It surveys the homeless circumstance all around the state and concludes thus:
Persistence is our best weapon in getting California's most vulnerable the help they need.
I wrote an email to Ms. Smith, encouraging her to write a follow-up to her Forum piece about the mess that, instead, explores how best to help the campers. The text of my email follows:

Ms. Smith, 
I read your piece in the Forum section. Certainly, the American River Parkway should be protected such to return it to its prior glory. Persons must be disallowed to set up a camp that is effectively a permanent place for themselves along the parkway or around Discovery Park. 
This isn't new news; this is old news, as Phil Serna knows firsthand. 
What is again unaddressed is your question -- and its variants in the past -- to the effect of what should happen to the campers who created the great mess, now? Or, as it is better phrased in Homeless World, Where is a place for these people to go? 
You seem to assume that these campers had good alternatives but resorted to messing up the Parkway, yet again. What were these alternatives? 
I am neither excusing nor dismissing the great messes or the aberrational lifestyle the campers led. But they are in a circumstance (at this moment) that is little different than what all homeless people encounter: Their life is slipping away and they need something to make the hurting stop. 
Actually, the way to a cure for these campers is known. It is precisely what you quote Ryan Loofbourrow dismissing. These substance-abusing ARP campers need "meaning in their life" and healthy human connections. Addiction, in fact, isn't King; never was. 
Ms. Smith, you should write a follow-up piece to your Forum piece, today. You should do that in part because yours is yet another in a long string of incomplete opinion pieces by the Bee Board and Breton on this general topic that is cut off at its end except for a self-satisfied snarl. You should get a phone and internet access and find out "what [we should] do with this group of homeless people," for yourself. You're a journalist, right? Hop to it! 
Tom Armstrong
Sacramento Homeless blog


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