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Hopeful homeless in search of a ‘safe ground’

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Sacramento’s homeless are still searching for safe ground after the tent city was taken down in April 2009.

On Tuesday, homeless camper and SafeGround movement leader John Kraintz, Sacramento civil rights lawyer Mark Merin, State Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg and activists from nonprofit organizations around Sacarmento marched from Friendship Park to Cesar Chavez Park in celebration of the SafeGround Movement.

They were joined by homeless men and women as they marched, sang, danced and spoke on behalf of the homeless.

Using a microphone, which echoed through speakers around the stage, musicians and speakers were heard loud and clear by the crowd of more than 100.

“People came together on Tuesday to celebrate the conclusion of a year, to celebrate life and a common goal, and to demonstrate to the city of Sacramento that we are a coherent force,” Merin said.

SafeGround Sacramento is a nonprofit homeless rights and advocacy organization founded by homeless people working to establish a safe and legal place for Sacramento’s homeless to stay and sleep.

Last August, Mayor Kevin Johnson camped out with Sacramento’s homeless community in efforts to find a legal place for homeless people to reside.

A month later, Johnson launched a plan to find 2,400 housing units for homeless people during the next three years.

Almost a year after Johnson’s camping with them, homeless people like Kraintz are hopeful, but still waiting.

“This is a movement for homeless people, by homeless people,” Krainitz said. “SafeGround is many things at this point; it’s a social justice movement trying to find equality for all people, it is a camping gear supply store for people that don’t have anything and need to sleep outside.”

Food Not Bombs served tofu, salad, fruit salad, chocolate cake and iced tea and the line for food stretched across the park. Many local bands and musicians, such as Pinkie and the Blind Resistance, had the crowd dancing and singing along to their classical rock tunes and modern blues.

Since April 2009, advocates have been trying to move away from the notion of a “tent city.”

“We have been fighting to acquire and develop a piece of land that we can use, for about 60 homeless people hopefully, so that they can have a place to go at a time when the county has pretty much cut off all their shelters and there are only a few beds left,” Kraintz said.

Sacramento’s “camping ordinance” has made it illegal for anyone to camp on public property. At least 1,200 men, women and children sleep outdoors in Sacramento. More on this information can be found on the SafeGround website. (SafeGround)

Both Merin and Kraintz expressed a similar thought about the progress SafeGround has made in the past year.

“The principle progress made is in the organization of the participants, establishing a nonprofit organization and gaining respect and recognition from members of the community,” Merin said.

Kraintz added, “In the beginning of the movement, they started out to find a place where homeless people can go. What we have learned is that we are building a community, and that is something that is really lacking.”

Although SafeGround members are hopeful, locating land has proved to be a challenge. The proposed pilot site has yet to be determined, according to Merin.

It will take up to a year, hundreds of thousands of dollars, compliance with zoning laws and public support to get the project done.

“We need to think outside of the box in an economy that has been severely taxed,” Merin said.

Loaves & Fishes is one of the three nonprofit organizations supporting SafeGround.

“Once we get support of the city, county and neighbors to help find an adequate piece of land, we are going to be the biggest model for the nation by showing a way of providing a need for the homeless,” said Loaves & Fishes’ executive director, Sister Libby Fernandez.

SafeGround has received a $25,000 grant from Catholic Healthcare West and has been promised a $50,000 grant for development from HomeAid Sacramento.

Steinberg took the stage as the celebration drew to a close.

The crowd cheered as Steinberg advocated for combating homelessness.

“This is a human rights issue, and it begins with SafeGround,” he said. “It beings with everyone having their own little sliver or slice of safe ground to be able to create a new beginning.”

“I’m very proud to be here with you as we fight all kinds of demons over at the State Capitol. Being out here with you is grounding for me.”

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