Homeless in Harper’s

For more information about Safe Ground, read William Vollmann’s article in this month’s Harper’s Magazine. Official information can be found at www.safegroundsac.org.

In 2009, Oprah Winfrey fixed her powerful spotlight on Sacramento in a segment about a tent city that had cropped up adjacent to downtown. The resulting media frenzy made the homeless encampment a national symbol of the human results of a failing economy.

Two years later, the spotlight shines again on our city’s homeless because of a compellingly candid story written by William T. Vollmann in the recent Harper’s Magazine. The nationally acclaimed writer gives us “Homeless in Sacramento,” an 18-page report on the local “Safe Ground” campers and movement. The story is sympathetic to the homeless while being markedly candid about the “stinking actuality” that usually accompanies their lives.

Will the renewed spotlight help keep the pressure on the city and county to do what’s right for our ever-growing homeless population? We hope so.

As the people at Safe Ground say, the goal is not to continue camping on the American River Parkway. The goal is to create a legal, safe and sanitary place where homeless people—ones who are willing to take a “no alcohol, no drugs, no violence” vow—can camp without fear of being harassed or regularly rousted by cops. A legal spot won’t solve the challenges faced by Sacramento’s approximately 1,200 homeless. Nor will it eradicate the problems faced by the north Sacramento neighbors of the region’s most popular homeless camping spots. But it would at least be a step forward.

We urge the city of Sacramento—in conjunction with private and nonprofit organizations—to continue making progress toward acquiring a parcel of land where Vollmann’s Safe Ground subjects—his friends—can stay warm, safe, dry and legal.