Vagrants, Downtown and Denial

Katy Grimes: In a horrific display of animal viciousness, a pit bull dog owned by one of Sacramento’s illustrious “homeless” population, attacked a horse pulling a carriage in Old Sacramento. A good samaritan intervened and fought off the dog until police arrived. The dog was destroyed by police when they couldn’t gain control of the animal.

The horse received veterinary treatment, and is covered in stitches as the dog bit it on the mouth, shoulder and leg.

The vagrant is nowhere to be found.

Maybe someone should look for him  J Street — or K street —  or L Street near the Greyhound station — or in the downtown shopping mall — or hanging out around parking garages — or panhandling near the Capitol — or I street by the Amtrack station — or near the County Courthouse — or by the Tower Bridge — or near the Crocker Museum — or on every street corner near freeway onramps.

Sacramento has a homeless problem… and a crime problem… and a denial problem.

In October, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson held the “Sacramento Community Homeless Forum.”  The four hour forum featured presentations from City Council Member, Rob Fong, Mayor Johnson,  UC Davis Community Development Professor, Jason MacCannell; as well as formerly homeless individuals and nonprofit directors “who work around issues of homelessness.”

Johnson told the assembled advocates that 1,350 units of permanent affordable housing has already been created using Federal funds. In addition, the City of Sacramento has 200 winter shelter beds available for homeless. And Johnson said he also anticipated creating 3,000 permanent housing units in 3 years targeting low-income individuals.

With each subsequent event geared at helping out the region’s homeless, the vagrant population in Sacramento seems to grow. And they are filling the streets of downtown.

I walk from my J Street office  to the Capitol regularly. I’ve been mugged, spit upon, hustled, bumped, pushed, cat-called, stepped in human excrement, and even interrupted a few drug sales. And some of the “pets” that accompany vagrants look hungry enough to take a bite out of my leg.

I’m guessing that the people attending the homeless conventions don’t use the city streets much, because if they did walk as many blocks as I cover, unescorted, they would be first in line to dissuade the homeless from making downtown Sacramento home.

In August of 2009, Mayor Johnson spent one night with some homeless folks downtown. They pooled together their money and fixed him dinner. Not only was I struck with the junk food they provided Johnson, but the money it took for them to by it. And then the reporter covering the story talked to many of the homeless, and reported how nearly all of them receive Social Security or welfare assistance. It’s a rarity to see a real vagrant anymore – one who does not receive a government check.

Ask any downtown resident about the homeless and vagrant problems, and you’ll get an earful. Most of the people that I’ve queried would prefer to see programs put in place that don’t encourage homelessness, and instead, require some community service for the food and shelter received.

And most of the people who are truly down-on-their-luck would prefer assistance to help turn around their lives.

The government should not be counted upon for this. Welfare checks, Social Security and food stamps do nothing other than keep people dependent and out of work. Churches and charities do a much better job of helping the needy change their circumstances.

Sonny,” the horse attacked by the dog, suffered wounds to his face and legs but is expected to recover. But I’ll bet his owner is thinking twice about cruising the downtown streets in his carriage.

DEC. 22, 2010

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