Discussion of homelessness in Sacramento

Jeff vonKaenel

Yes, it's true. I was actually hoping that Republican Congressman Tom McClintock or Fox News' Sean Hannity would enter the room. No, I was not in purgatory. I was at Valley Vision's Village Square community discussion of homelessness.

Billed as “a serious conversation about a serious problem,” the village square concept is for people with different points of view to come out of their silos and have a productive dialogue on a controversial issue.

I was willing. I called up to buy my $30 ticket, which included a buffet dinner at KVIE, only to hear that it was sold out. They let me in because I was press, but said “no dinner.” But some paying customers didn’t show up, so I got a free dinner. I was fed and ready for some verbal fireworks.

At the beginning of the meeting, they announced that there’s a civility bell. If you are uncivil, they ring the bell. Someone joked that the bell would be helpful for parents with teenage children.

Unfortunately, there was no need for the bell. Nor was there any real discussion of controversial issues. While our community is clearly divided on homelessness, Valley Vision’s panel was not so divided.

The panel included Sacramento Steps Forward Executive Director Ryan Loofbourrow, who oversees the county’s primary homeless agency; St. John’s CEO Michele Steeb, representing St. John’s Program for Real Change; Loaves & Fishes Mustard Seed School Outreach Coordinator Liana Luna; and civil rights attorney and homeless advocate Mark Merin, who is on the board of Safe Ground.

These were great and knowledgeable panelists—but anyone hoping to hear different points of view about issues around homelessness was going to be disappointed.

While there were people of different ages, races and economic wealth around the tables, I only heard one position presented, and that was that we need to do more, and to do more efficiently. The moderator, professional comedian/actor/writer Jack Gallagher, tried to play devil’s advocate and suggested that the homeless should “just get jobs.” This went over as well as saying in the San Francisco Giants clubhouse, “Since we won the World Series three of the last five years, let’s give the Los Angeles Dodgers a chance this year.” No one picked up on the theme.

So there was no debate. There was no need for the civility bell. That said, there was some good information presented.

Loofbourrow described the complexities of providing a vast array of services. Merin pointed out the absurdity of having the police continually moving homeless people around when there is no place for them to stay. Merin also asked why we have a perfectly good shelter adjacent to Loaves & Fishes which cannot get the permit to open, so people are left to sleep on the streets. Why indeed?

Good information and nice people. The food was good, too. But it was not a village square.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.