Crammed into the standing-room-only Artisan Building on Del Paso Boulevard last week, alongside over 400 people there to discuss two large homeless shelters earmarked for our neighborhood, I thought of Sacramento Kings radio broadcaster Grant Napear’s trademark quote, “If you do not like that, then you do not like NBA basketball.”
If you do not like a gathering that included upscale homeowners, local renters, folks lacking any housing, business owners and city leaders passionately and often eloquently discussing an issue that is important to us all—then you don’t like American democracy.
The town hall meeting had it all. It had a controversial proposal that the city open a temporary winter shelter with about 300 beds, on Railroad Drive off Del Paso Boulevard, on December 1. There was a second proposal to open a permanent shelter, with 200 beds, next to the Royal Oaks light rail station off Arden Way. Both of these shelters would be fairly close to SN&R’s office.
There were three elected officials, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and City Councilmen Jeff Harris and Allen Warren, taking a brave political position to support these shelters, in a room where many were holding up signs saying “Don’t railroad us.” These local officials made a strong case for why it was important for the city to do something to address the growing homeless problem. Their position was that the shelters would make things better in North Sacramento.
There were the primarily white, upscale Woodlake homeowners, arguing that if this is so good for the neighborhood, why isn’t there another neighborhood where these shelters could go? They feared that the shelters would bring more homeless people to their quiet neck of the woods.
There were numerous speakers who had once been homeless and who supported the shelter.
Del Paso Boulevard Partnership board chair and Casa Bella Galleria co-owner Shane Curry did an excellent job as a moderator, making sure people were heard and keeping a potentially unruly crowd from getting out of control.
There were questions, some fair and some not so fair, and some that got under the skin of Darrell Steinberg and Allen Warren.
There was the owner of screen printer Creative T’s N’ Things, whose business is next to the proposed winter homeless shelter on Railroad Drive. He said he was concerned that having additional people going in and out of the facility would impact his company. But he said he once had to live in the park for three months, so he was willing to support the mayor’s proposal.
There was a currently homeless man who reminded us that we are all part of God’s creation, and that we all run the risk of living on the street.
Following the event, there was television coverage that characteristically put a focus on the conflict and missed the more important takeaway: People were actually communicating with each other. And while there was not agreement, people left the town hall better informed and more understanding of those they disagreed with.
And the spirits of our founding fathers, who have spent much of this past year weeping about the state of American democracy, for a brief moment, looked up and smiled. Sometimes there is a lot to like about American democracy.