Sacramento Update

February 23, 2003

A group of homeless people in Sacramento has been planning for several months now to establish a tent city in this town.

The Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee (SHOC) has held weekly meetings and worked tirelessly between meetings, planning and making preparations to offer homeless people in Sacramento an alternative to sleeping alone on the streets, in alleyways, in doorways or in jails.

Studying the guidelines of successful tent cities in Seattle, WA, and Portland, OR, SHOC decided to adopt strict rules prohibiting alcohol, drugs or violence in the intentional community. Environmental principles were researched and incorporated into SHOC's plans to set up a tent city and community support and participation were encouraged and generously given by many concerned members of the the housed community in Sacramento and Davis.

SHOC's first attempt at establishing a pilot encampment entailed meetings with representatives of the Golden Empire Council of the Boy Scouts of America and a Camp Pollock ranger to ask if they were willing to host the tent city for the winter months at Camp Pollock. It was the most obvious location for a first try in that Camp Pollock is already zoned for camping being a Boy Scout Camp, has restrooms with showers and is centrally located near the services many homeless people rely upon. This request was denied although both park and council representatives were most gracious and supportive and spent much time offering valuable advice.

Undaunted SHOC's next step was to apply for a permit with the City to camp on public property. Muir Park was the first target location, a park gated and with a combination lock most assuredly to keep out the homeless population. SHOC was told that Muir Park was to be closed for the Winter and its application was automatically denied. Even so officials responsible for the review and denial met with SHOC member Cliff Crooks to discuss other possible options. Officials suggested that Sutter's Landing, a newly established park next to the old dump, would be a better location for a tent city yet did not anticipate easy approval by the City. Even so, another permit application was submitted for the Sutter's Landing location which was subsequently denied.

Before setting up a single tent, SHOC's enquiries attracted media attention and hit the media spotlight in the Sacramento Bee story "Sacramento denies tent city to homeless" of January 6, 2003 and on January 16, 2003, the weekly Sacramento News & Review ran an editorial entitled "It takes a different village" which endorsed the tent city model and urged the City to accept the tent village concept in Sacramento, saying that many different approaches should be used to help address the homeless crisis.

SHOC persisted in trying different approaches and worked at gaining more communtiy support which increased daily. Two recent homeless murders made the group decide not to delay any longer. The need for a safe encampment was dire and could not wait until all the plans and practices were perfected. The victims of the recent murders could have found safety if there had been a tent city for them to go to.

On February 17, 2003, TV news crews arrived en masse at Loaves & Fishes to cover the start of the March for the Right to Sleep, the march leading toward the next attempt at establishing a tent city. People carrying signs, some pushing shopping carts, some with their camping gear on their backs, some showing up to show their solidarity and support, headed for Sutter's Landing. Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee carried their banner. Representatives from Women's Economic Agenda Project (WEAP) had come up from Oakland for the day to lend support and also carried their banner on the march.

The long march ended at the park at C and 28th Streets, a few blocks from Sutter's Landing, where many were waiting to participate in a pre-civil disobedience rally. Food Not Bombs was faithfully there to serve dinner to the many guests and campers. When the tent city's future residents made ready to set up camp at Sutter's Fort, the SPD thwarted their efforts ordering everyone to leave the area. Mayor Heather Fargo sent two vans with a message to the campers that there were 50 beds available at the overflow shelter and that they could get a ride there. Bus tickets were offered to anyone wishing to leave town for any reason.

Though SHOC had planned to move in unison to another undisclosed location, the uneasy situation led to the final dispersal of the crowd, most leaving their separate ways. News crews galore covered the rally, the incident with the police, the van with seats empty because no one accepted the ride, and a promise that "We will return."

The next evening many returned, not expecting to be allowed to stay but intent on keeping their promise. That evening TV news across all channels reported on the action. The Sacramento Bee ran a good article on February 18, 2003, about the tent city action. Access Sacramento extensively covered the event and as events unfold more coverage can be expected.

Currently SHOC is regrouping and recruiting, sleeping outside as usual as its members are unable to find affordable housing. Meanwhile the movement toward establishing a tent city in Sacramento and in cities across the nation goes forward, a movement that will continue and grow until each city has effectively addressed the current housing crisis and until everyone has a roof be it ever so humble above their head.