Vollmann goes deep into tent city

Safe Ground still looking for safe ground.

Safe Ground still looking for safe ground.

Last week, county officials again began mass evictions of homeless campers along the American River. The Sacramento Bee was there with its “let’s have a big ol’ community dialogue” juggernaut of coverage, with multiple writers and editors hitting lots of angles.

But for depth, we turned this week to Harper’s Magazine, and to Sacramento’s William T. Vollmann, whose 18-page report “Homeless in Sacramento” provides the most definitive look yet at the local Safe Ground movement and the long tradition of tent cities and Hoovervilles in the river city.

Vollmann is a novelist and short-story writer, and a winner of the National Book Award. As a journalist, he has always paid attention to the poor, to prostitutes and hobos and the people on the margins.

The Harper’s piece is a first-person account of Vollmann’s experiences with the homeless who have camped on (and frequently abused) a patch of property Vollmann owns in Alkali Flat, and with the police who frequently come to roust them.

Vollmann also traveled extensively among the Safe Ground and other homeless campsites, sleeping and eating and surviving along the river along with the people he was writing about.

It’s a sympathetic but candid account. He’s quite clear about the “stinking actuality” of homelessness, but doesn’t abide those who “see their homeless brothers and sisters as, in essence, walking (or shambling) filth factories.” “How far they would wish authority to go to make the homeless disappear I’ve never asked them, fearing that the answer would make me sad,” he writes.

After you read Vollmann’s story, check out his interview on KQED’s Forum program on February 17. There’s an interesting exchange near the end of the interview between Vollmann and “Bob from Sacramento,” who we’re 99 percent sure is north Sac landowner Bob Slobe. Slobe’s family donated big chunks of land to the American River Parkway, and he’s been fighting against homeless camping in the area for years. (Cosmo Garvin)

Black hole salmon

On February 19, the House of Representatives voted 235 to 189 to pass a budget-balancing bill that local conservationists fear will suck Sacramento River chinook salmon into the black hole of extinction.

The continuing resolution, a required federal-spending plan for the coming fiscal year, included Republican-backed amendments that, if signed by the president, will eliminate programs designed to aid West Coast salmon. Threatened programs include a Klamath River dam-removal plan, a San Joaquin River salmon restoration project and a federal law called a “biological opinion” that has regulated pumping of water from the Delta since 2009 to protect juvenile salmon. All House Democrats, but just three Republicans, opposed the bill.

“That biological opinion is the only hope we have keeping [chinook] salmon from going extinct,” said Dick Pool, president of Water4Fish, a fishery conservation organization in Concord.

The continuing resolution may still be revised by the Senate before going to President Barack Obama, who must sign or veto the bill by March 4. (Alastair Bland)