Safe Ground

(Credit Arman Zhenikeyev via Shutterstock)

You pass them on the way to the store, at the stoplight in your car, in the park as you play with your dog. You see them, even though you wish you didn’t, and if at all possible you avoid them. Yet they remain a dominant feature of our neighborhoods, an uncomfortable reminder of pain and humiliation.

Homelessness is far from a hidden issue in Sacramento. It is numbered that on any given night, roughly 2,300 people sleep on the streets. But if it’s true that the measure of a society is how well it treats its poor, what will the history books say about us?

A woman sits on the sidewalk with all her belongings in the 85 degree weather.

In a world where they are constantly judged and harassed for having nothing, it is a steep and sometimes impossible climb towards stability. Because they are homeless, they are not legally allowed to really be anywhere; they live in constant flux, with nowhere to land.

On top of having to worry if the place they are camping out in will be flooded during a storm, the homeless battle the city which tells them that even the mud filled ditch where they sleep is illegal and they must leave. They live in fear and uncertainty over where they will sleep each night.

They are not trying to break the law, they would love not to, but strict city regulations leave them adrift. The organization called Safe Ground advocates a new alternative, a rather simple solution to the problem. It asks the city to give them a place to be. They hope for a piece of land that they can camp on without fear of harassment; a place to build what they can by their own hands.

It all started over two years ago. “Forced out by politics and police, a small group of homeless people banded together – called “safeground” – to fight for the right to have a place to sleep. Thirty months later, they still have no place to go.” The movement has now grown, and Safe Ground is an official non-profit linked with such organizations as Loaves & Fishes, Francis House and the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee.  They currently work with churches and willing partners to allow small groups to camp on their land for a night without fear of arrest. But their real goal is to obtain a piece of land on which to put small cabins and shelter for those in need.

A man sits outside, violating the no loitering sign next to him.

Now, we constantly criticize the homeless for not being more proactive, not doing something to take care of themselves and always asking for help from others instead. But a less obvious truth seems to be that, because of certain regulations, we are actually making it harder for them to do so. They are incapable of setting up a small dwelling, planting a garden and thus being more emotionally and physically stable, and more self sustaining. Safe Ground argues that if given the opportunity, they could build something for themselves, it just might not fit inside the box that government wants them in.

For that faction of the homeless that live on the river, in the alleys, under bridges, carving their niche into the seams of our world, how will history remember our treatment of them? That we punished them, put them in jail, destroyed what little shelter they had and stole their measly possessions? Or that we gave them what they needed to survive, to progress, and to create something new?

To find more information on Safe Ground, visit http://www.safegroundsac.org/.

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  • RK

    Well written piece that brings much needed attention to invisible people.