The End of Homelessness?

wishful thinking in sacramento

The good news: Sacramento is ending homelessness! Not so good: They’re accomplishing this mission the same way George W. Bush “ended” the war in Iraq, with a media event and balloons.

Last February, The Oprah Winfrey Show reported on the shameful “tent city” of homeless people living along Sacramento’s American River. According to the show’s initial report, and much of the attention that followed, the encampment’s residents included many families who were there as victims of the recession. As it turned out, that wasn’t the case. There wasn’t a single child in the bunch, and, overwhelmingly, homeless people in the encampment (as elsewhere) had underlying mental-health problems and/or addictions. Still, the part of the story Oprah got right is that in the United States of America, shantytowns disgrace us all. And eventually, the city’s mayor, Kevin Johnson, abandoned his view that a properly protected tent city might be part of a temporary solution to an uptick in the number of homeless people. So, what’s happened since then? Last month, Oprah’s reporter returned to see what progress had been made. The city scheduled a coinciding event that the local newspaper admiringly described as a “pep rally,” where crowds cheered the mayor’s announcement of a plan to end homelessness in Sacramento. If I thought it might work, I’d be cheering, too.

On November 5, the Sacramento Bee reported, “Johnson and other leaders kicked off the ‘Sacramento Steps...

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About the Author

Melinda Henneberger, a Commonweal columnist, is the former editor-in-chief of