Commentary: A better option for homeless campers

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, September 18, 2009
The expensive cat and mouse game the city is playing with homeless campers and Mark Merin, their attorney and would-be landlord, is futile. Even if the city wins - that is, the homeless permanently vacate the empty lot where Merin has allowed them to camp - it loses. Evicted campers will just move to some other illegal campsite elsewhere in the city.

And don't get me wrong, I don't approve of what Merin has done. His attempt to set up an illegal campground on land he owns north of downtown has upset the neighbors, understandably so. No one wants scores of homeless people encamped on their door steps.

There is a much better alternative. The city ought to declare a three acre site behind two existing homeless shelters on Bannon Street, safe ground - legal for homeless campers. The land is owned by the county. It has plenty of shade, running water and it used to be a legal campsite until drug use led to its closure in the 1990s.

Homeless campers have been working with HomeAID, the charitable arm of the Building Industry Association, to design a campground there. It would have a central kitchen, dining area, showers and toilets. Surely that's an improvement over the floating illegal campground the city is dealing with now.

Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.