Camp compassion

A mechanic who served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force

During the Board of Supervisor’s hearing on closing the winter overflow shelter on April 15, I was struck by the reality of the plight of the homeless: they have nowhere to legally be. They’re not allowed by our society’s laws to be anywhere. Many of them asked at the hearing, “Just where are we supposed to go?”

Whether they’re homeless because of bad luck, bad decisions, or choice, they need a place where they can be during the day and the night, winter or summer. Many of the homeless want space, and cramming them into a modular trailer or other type of de-humanizing homeless shelter is not a permanent solution. For centuries, wanderers, drifters, hobos, gypsies, or today’s “homeless” have inhabited Earth. Whether it’s a desire to be free or a desire to be in touch with Mother Nature instead of the concrete canyons of the cities, many prefer only the shelter of a tent and a campfire.

I suggest that we acknowledge this reality and provide these people with a place to exist without being in violation of loitering or trespassing laws. We need to create places where the homeless can camp legally within city boundaries. Bring the services typically provided at shelters or centers like Loaves & Fishes there, as well as portable toilets and showers.

Envision an environment much like a Renaissance faire where the homeless could live without harassment, with space for each individual and family and controls for health and safety. It would be a lot cheaper to provide tents for the homeless than to build shelters, apartments or “Quinn Cottages” for them. This arrangement would allow the American River Parkway to be used again for its intended recreational purposes. We should insist that the homeless otherwise remove themselves from our American River Parkway where camping is both illegal and unhealthy.

This public policy change would require concessions from both sides of the homeless issue. Advocates for the homeless would have to concede that shelter for the homeless would not be permanent shelters. Likewise, taxpayers would have to recognize society’s responsibility to find and provide a place for the homeless to reside and to subsidize its costs. All communities need to step up to this responsibility, not just Sacramento, including Placer and El Dorado counties that currently shun their homeless responsibilities, and by their inaction, force the homeless to congregate in Sacramento.