Camp Arnie: A Glimpse of Things to Come
March 29, 2009
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said a make-shift tent city for the homeless that sprang up in the capital city of Sacramento will be shut down and its residents allowed to stay at the state fairgrounds.
The homeless will be “allowed” to stay at Cal-Expo? More like they will be required to stay there, either that or hit the streets.
“Together with the local government and volunteers, we are taking a first step to ensure the people living in tent city have a safe place to stay, with fresh water, healthy conditions and access to the services they need,” said Herr Schwarzenegger, California’s Uber-gov.
California, home to one of every eight Americans, has been particularly hard hit by the housing market collapse after many residents turned to exotic mortgages to afford homes. The tent city, which has long existed along the banks of the America River, gained national attention last month when some of its recently homeless residents were featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
In other words, the homeless, usually out-of-sight and thus out-of-mind, are a public relations disaster for Arnie and officialdom in California. Now that they will be forced to live in the deteriorating Cal-Expo, media access can be micro-managed by the state. “Too much media attention can be a bad thing. At least that seems to be the case for a tent city of 200 that sprang up a year ago in Sacramento,” the Los Angeles Times reported last week.
Cassandra Jennings, Sacramento’s assistant city manager, told KCRA 3 “what’s envisioned is a single, large tent with individual spaces or compartments and that there is no interest in recreating the existing tent city at Cal Expo.”
“Shelters are like institutions,” remarked one homeless man.
“At shelters you must share space with junkies, drunks, anti-social and emotionally deprived people. Shelters are dangerous, and violent. Rather than staying in a shelter and in order to preserve one’s sense of self, people stay in cars, crash with friends (’couch surfing’) or otherwise stay in the woods or on the streets somewhere,” writes Dana Szegedy, a student who experienced homelessness.
In the months ahead, as the economy continues its engineered implosion, local governments around the country may resort to the Camp Arnie solution to homelessness. Camp Arnie will reportedly hold a few hundred people (who are described as “chronic homeless,” not victims of foreclosure and unemployment) but it will stretch beyond capacity as unemployment and foreclosure homelessness increase.
Arnie puts the best face on the embarassing homeless problem in Sacramento.
As an example of what may be in store, consider the situation in New Orleans post-Katrina. Katrina produced a burgeoning population of homeless people who had lost their homes and were reduced to living on the street. In response, Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration cooked up a new public habitation law to move “vagrants” (victims) to a bunkhouse at the New Orleans Mission, according to the Lost in New Orleans blog.
What the mission calls its “bunkhouse,” an air-conditioned, heated Quonset-style tent erected at the back of its property, can hold 140 men. About 100 more men can sleep on the mission’s second floor, but only if the shelter hires a “firewatch,” because of its building’s current fire hazards. Women stay in a separate house, which has space for eight more, said Ron Gonzales, the shelter’s director.
Nagin planned to institutionalize the homeless. It looks like California is in the process of doing the same. Prior to this, Nagin “suggested a way to reduce this city’s post-Katrina homeless population: give them one-way bus tickets out of town.” Nagin’s frustration was a direct response to FEMA’s handling of the homeless crisis — the supposed emergency management agency put the displaced in toxic trailers and then dumped them on the street. “While some have moved to homes of relatives in other states, others are living in cars, or have joined the rapidly growing New Orleans homeless population,” Deepa Fernandes wrote for Mother Jones in 2008.
FEMA’s ludicrously (and maybe prophetically) named toxic trailer camp — “Renaissance Village” — was in essence a concentration camp. “When you first drive up on the FEMA site you see a chain-link fenced in property with stark crowded trailers and no trespassing signs posted along the perimeter. When you drive up to the entrance you will see security guards at the front gate. It doesn’t take much of a closer look to notice that the security guards are armed. FEMA requires all residents to carry Renaissance Village ID badges at all times,” explains a blog on the subject.
You will have to show your ID’s, tell them who you are going to see and their trailer number and they will write down your license plate number on your vehicle when you come in. Mark Misczak, the agency’s human services director for Louisiana said it is“private, like a gated community”. It is unlike any gated community we have ever known of, except a prison. When the site opened FEMA had a ban on firearms.
“It is wrong to force citizens to give up their constitutional rights in order for them to get a needed federal benefit,” said NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.
Of course homeless people reduced to entering a fenced FEMA camp surrounded by armed guards shouldn’t expect to exercise their constitutional rights. In fact, they didn’t have the right to talk to the media, either. At a FEMA concentration camp in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, in 2006 a reporter was prevented from talking to inmates.
Dekotha Devall, whose New Orleans home was destroyed by the storm, was in her FEMA-provided trailer telling the Advocate reporter of the hardships of life in the camp when a security guard knocked on the door.
“You are not allowed to be here,” the guard is quoted as telling the reporter. “Get out right now.” The guard reportedly called police to force the journalist to leave the camp, and even prevented the reporter from giving the interview subject a business card. “You will not give her a business card,” the guard said. “She’s not allowed to have that.”
Later, at another FEMA camp in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, the reporter attempted to talk to camp resident Pansy Ardeneaux through a chain link fence when the same guard halted the interview. “You are not allowed to talk to these people,” the guard told Ardeneaux. “Return to your trailer now.” The reporter said she and an accompanying photographer were “ordered…not to talk to anyone or take pictures.”
In September, 2006, renowned journalist Greg Palast was charged with crimes against the state for filming a FEMA toxic trailer concentration camp, deemed a “critical national security structure,” described by Palast as an ” aluminum ghetto in the middle of nowhere.”
Arnie Schwarzenegger (an admitted fan of a man who pioneered many concentration camp techniques) is attempting to drastically curtail media access to the growing number of homeless in his state by locking the down-and-out up in a concentration camp at Cal-Expo. Is it possible Arnie will post armed guards around the homeless containment pens at Cal-Expo to run off the media in the same way FEMA did? Bet on it.
Eventually this out-of-sight-out-mind damage control tactic will fail. As the economy implodes and the number of unemployed, foreclosed, and homeless increase around the country it will be impossible for government to sweep the problem under the rug — or in the case of California, sweep it into a livestock pen at the state fair grounds.
Is it possible the KBR constructed camps situated around the country — camps Glenn Beck tells us do not exist — are intended to lock-down millions of angry and desperate unemployed people in the months and years ahead?
If I was a betting man, I’d say so.