Inanimate objectives

In ramping up American River Parkway sweeps, Sacramento politicians show they care more about things than poor people

Cynthia Spencer is a Sacramento writer and activist who has spent years volunteering with the county homeless population.

I woke up last Thursday morning embarrassed to be a Sacramentan.

The day before, on August 23, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted to sink $5 million into further criminalizing poverty under the guise of “protecting” the American River Parkway.

Supervisors Phil Serna and Patrick Kennedy both expressed concern for the parkway, and Serna mentioned our obligation to be “good stewards” of the parkway. The dissenting board members expressed concern for the budget.

Sacramento County officials are more concerned with being good stewards of things rather than being of service to people.

Just like the cranky neighbor who complains about your dogs, these folks living on the parkway are our neighbors and community members. We have repeatedly failed them. As we have all noticed, the homeless situation in Sacramento has grown exponentially, and it now affects every single community around us.

As recently as November, just as winter was coming to Sacramento, the county expended valuable manpower and resources to “clean up” homeless camps along the parkway and in the Arden Arcade area. We all see how well that money was spent, given that those areas are once again filled with homeless encampments. Anyone who’s lived in Sacramento for more than a decade can probably remember the numerous other times that the county has thrown money at forcibly evicting homeless residents, only to have the camps show back up in a matter of months.

Criminalizing poverty isn’t the answer. How many more times do we need to repeat this exercise in futility to understand that? Regardless of political affiliation or thoughts on social safety net programs, we have to admit that we cannot arrest our way out of this. We are wasting time and money.

But, more importantly, we are failing our community. Many of the recently homeless were living in cheap apartments before. Sacramento has no services that catch people before they fall into homelessness, and that line between being sheltered or not is treacherously thin and all too easy to fall over. Many of these people were literally our neighbors at one point.

Our first priority as a community should be to the people we share our neighborhoods with. Humans are more important than things. County supervisors had a chance to make people a priority last week and failed, instead rambling about our “obligation” to things.

Just imagine how many people could receive proper health care and be sheltered with $5 million.

I’m overcome with sadness for this community I am a part of. We are about to witness yet another clumsy attempt “clean up” the county, which will only result in the annual shuffle of homeless camps we seem to see every year. All the while, county politicians get to pat themselves on the back for “protecting the p arkway.”

What about protecting people? Will Sacramento ever get this right?