If you attend the weekly Sacramento City Council meetings, you’re likely to see an activist with colorful clothing address city leaders on homeless issues.
Tracie Rice-Bailey, 57, has appeared at Tuesday night council meetings so frequently in the last year that she has become a familiar face at City Hall.
For more than a year, Rice-Bailey and other advocates for the homeless have lobbied council members for a legal camping ground for the area’s homeless.
Rice-Bailey is a vocal member of the advocacy group that calls itself Safe Ground Sacramento. The group wants the city to reserve a space for homeless people where the city’s camping ban would not apply.
Rice-Bailey, who said she was homeless for 12 years and now lives downtown, often intersperses her short speeches at City Hall with quotations from the Bible. She also has a distinctive style: She is instantly recognizable because of her 1960s-era necklaces and beaded headband.
The Sacramento Press sat down with Rice-Bailey at Loaves & Fishes recently to talk to her about her role with the Safe Ground campaign. In her responses, she referred to “Tent City,” the homeless campground in Sacramento that attracted major media attention last year.
The Sacramento Press: How did you become involved with the Safe Ground issue?
Rice-Bailey: I was trying to get John Kraintz (current Safe Ground president) to work with me because I wanted someone else to roll with … and he flipped me to work with the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee. And out of SHOC, Safe Ground was born.
SP: So, SHOC was first, and then Safe Ground came after that.
TRB: Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee has been here for years. And that is our mother. We were at a SHOC meeting actually trying to figure out what to do with the people from Tent City because everyone was being displaced.
John had to go to the bathroom, and everyone was jamming John up, (asking): “What are we going to call it? What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?”
And John’s going, “Man, I just need safe ground!”
Hence our name.
It became Safe Ground from that second on. That’s what we all need: We all need safe ground.
SP: Safe Ground has been around for —
TRB: July 1, 2009 was our maiden march and our maiden camp-out. We camped across from the water treatment plant. And from there we went by the mission on Bannon Street. From there, we went to what we call the “field of dreams.”
From there, we went to Mark Merin’s property on 13th Street — and everybody knows about that.
And now, we’re out in the woods hiding again.
SP: Field of dreams? What is that?
TRB: That’s the North 10th property. We call it the field of dreams because when you have nothing, it’s a dream to even have a field.
SP: That’s an empty property?
TRB: It’s an empty property with trees on it, which makes it a dream in itself. The tent city by campers was not called “Tent City.” It was called “The Wasteland” or “The Badlands” because there’s no trees. There’s no shelter. There’s nothing to shelter you from the sun.
SP: Safe Ground advocates have been lobbying the City Council for more than a year. How optimistic do you feel about a Safe Ground site being set up?
TRB: I think they really have no choice. There is no budget. Nobody has a budget … If they would just give us a moratorium (on the camping ban). And I’m not saying (that we should) sleep on K Street or J Street, which people do right now anyway. But give us a place to be, and let us be self-governing. Let us take it from there.
SP: Are Safe Ground advocates taking their cause to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors?
TRB: We’ve made one visit there. We’ve been talking about that as something we’re going to have to start doing. The reason we’ve gone to the city so hard is that the city has the ordinance, and the city has the ability to change that ordinance. They can sign a paper and give us a moratorium … The county does all the homeless services. But now they’re cutting all of them. So, we’ve got to go there.
SP: I’ve heard you quote the Bible in your comments at City Hall. I’ve heard you speak many times. How do your personal religious views relate to your advocacy for a Safe Ground site?
TRB: We are our brother’s keeper. How the hell are you going to say I’m my brother’s keeper and not try to find him a place to be? You can’t. It’s not acceptable behavior. We’re here to learn to love each other. If we can’t figure out how to get along here, there is nothing left for us later.
Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.