Thursday, September 03, 2009

Campers gain some heavyweight help: Sacra Bee + Comment

Campers gain some heavyweight help  
Thursday, Sept. 03, 2009

Sacramento's homeless campers are making their stand, this time with the support of some political heavy hitters.

As city police officers rousted about 30 people from their "safe ground" campsite downtown on Wednesday, civil rights lawyers, religious leaders, businessmen and others were planning the next move.

Attorney Mark Merin, who owns the vacant lot where the campers have been sleeping for the past 10 days, stood amid his scruffy clients in a dark suit and red tie and vowed to go to court next month to challenge a city ordinance that prevents people from camping in non-designated areas for more than 24 hours at a time. Downtown businessman Moe Mohanna, a supporter of Loaves & Fishes homeless services, stood by in support, as did dozens of members of religious and advocacy groups.

The push to create a legal campground where homeless people can live with basic services and without police interference has gained momentum in recent months. Among those working toward a resolution to the issue are Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson; Brian Baker, dean of Sacramento's Trinity Cathedral; Tom Gagen, chief executive officer
of Sutter Medical Center; and Bill Camp, executive secretary of the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

But against the wishes of Johnson and other city leaders, Merin agreed to allow homeless campers to illegally occupy his property on C Street while negotiations on a permanent solution proceed. Prior to Wednesday's actions, police repeatedly warned the campers that they were violating the law and would have to leave.

Buoyed by Wednesday's show of support, homeless men and women vowed to defy police orders to leave. "I'm planning to sleep here tonight," said John Kraintz, who is homeless and for the past 10 days has been living on Merin's property.

Kraintz was one of 11 people on the lot when police showed up early Wednesday with a search warrant. Officers cut a lock, walked onto the property and began issuing citations against illegal camping. They seized 32 tents, sleeping bags, cots and other items as evidence.

They said they were responding to complaints from neighbors, including an elderly man whose house is adjacent to the site. The man, Pedro Hernandez, has told The Bee that campers have insulted him, left trash in the area and generally disrupted his life.

Most of the campers occupying the C Street property were showering or having breakfast at the nearby Loaves & Fishes homeless complex when police arrived, Kraintz said. The scene was mostly peaceful.

But Sacramento police spokesman Sgt. Norm Leong said things turned ugly when someone planted shards of broken glass and metal bolts under police cruisers in a failed attempt to disable them.

"These people are not happy, but we're in the middle of this thing," Leong said. "We have to enforce the law."

Hours after police showed up, campers already were pitching new tents donated by church groups and other advocates.

Merin, the attorney who owns the land, said he will challenge the city's camping ban when people who were cited on Wednesday appear in court on Oct. 30.

"Our view is that the ordinance itself is invalid," Merin said. "We'll challenge it on its face." He said he has a list of lawyers willing to assist free of charge, and property owners who want to donate land for campgrounds.

A committee studying the issue has asked the city to place a moratorium on citations for illegal camping until a permanent housing site can be established.

The flap over homeless tent cities in Sacramento became intensely political in April after more than 100 campers were forced to leave property owned by SMUD north of downtown. Since then, city and community leaders have been working toward finding permanent housing for the group while studying the possibility of a legal campground.

Mayor Johnson has said he supports the idea of a legal campground but that the city lacks the political will to make it happen now. He assembled a task force that has drafted a report on a proposed "safe ground" that would need to be approved by the City Council.

"We have some powerful people on our side," said Joan Burke, advocacy director for Loaves & Fishes.

Merin said the "safe ground" he created already has accomplished a purpose. "Here, people had a little bit of security and got some experience in self-governance," he said. "They are better-prepared to face the next challenge."

Kraintz said he and fellow campers felt safe on the grounds, where they have access to portable toilets and a large barbecue grill. "There were no major fights, no trouble at all," he said.

Even as police roamed the area Wednesday, Kraintz vowed to challenge the city's stand.

"We don't feel we are committing a crime," said Kraintz, wearing a bright green "Sacramento Safe Ground" T-shirt.

"We just want a safe place to sleep at night, and we're not going anywhere."

Call The Bee's Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082.

Sacramento police officers photograph homeless camper Carmen Bray outside her tent Wednesday. Police rousted about 30 people from the site on C Street owned by Sacramento attorney Mark Merin. He has allowed the homeless to illegally camp on the property while negotiations on a permanent solution proceed among local business, political and religious leaders.

Jim Conley Jr. sets up a spare tent after police seized 32 tents, sleeping bags and other items fromhomeless campers on Wednesday. Buoyed by the support of local leaders, the campers are making a stand at the site on C Street.

Comment: It should be obvious that the homeless in the streets are
not going to simply disappear from the public eye, not when they have
no place else to go but the streets. We need safeground, a place where
they can simply be left alone without police harassment or getting

Education for Liberation! Venceremos Unidos!
Peter S. Lopez ~aka ~Peta-de-Aztlan~
Sacramento, California, Aztlan
Yahoo Email: 
Come Together! Join Up! Seize the Time!


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