We are sad to share a deep loss to SHOC and Homeward that Lee Parks passed away unexpectedly earlier this month. Lee has volunteered with SHOC and Homeward Street Journal since 1997, and served as editor and layout person for Homeward, exclusively, since the early 2000’s. He also volunteered in the office overseeing the distributor program.
Loaves & Fishes will include him in their group memorial on March 29 at 10AM in Friendship Park.
by Cathleen Williams. Sacramento’s Community Summit on Homelessness convened on August 27th and 28th of this year. On a magnificent summer weekend, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, a hundred-year-old brick church across from the great trees of Capitol Park, a range of organizations, through their movers and shakers, gathered to start strategic planning around the moral, political, and practical crisis of homelessness.
The Setting of the Summit
Outside the walls of this peaceful site, the relentless and brutal assault by police, code enforcers, park rangers, CalTrans workers, and Sheriff’s deputies against unhoused people continued to rage throughout our city and county as our elected representatives pushed forward with their own drastic “non-solution,” towing vehicles, wrecking tents and encampments, displacing unhoused neighbors who live on sidewalks and grassy medians, in parks and open lands – all this suffering and hardship inflicted upon people in dire poverty, all this inflicted without a plan, an actual plan, to house or even shelter a community numbering between 10,000 and 20,000 people (the lower figure estimated by the official homeless “point in time” count of January 2022)
Meanwhile, new and hostile legal offensives are being cooked up at every level – by the State, funding CalTrans’ with hundreds of millions to clear land around highways from inhabitants; by the City, with new bans on sidewalk stays; and by the County, outlawing unhoused people from so called “infra-structure” areas that just happen to cover every corner and crevice of the 900 square mile expanse of Sacramento County.
And with these laws, an ugly narrative is being broadcast, accusing unhoused people of being violent, criminal, and distasteful – pariahs who should not be seen by children on their way to school or by the “good citizens” who should be able to shop, play and work without being confronted by the social devastation that is our country at the present moment.
Perhaps the most blatant new legal assault is Measure O, which the City has placed on the November ballot. Opposed by two insightful city council members, Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang, this Measure will mandate the city police to remove homeless people from their living areas in a vast campaign of sweeps and clearances, while authorizing only 600 “spaces” where they can legally live – most likely in city run encampments rather than places where they will be inside, with a door that closes and windows that open.
All this police action – Measure O provides that failure to homeless people to comply will be punishable as a misdemeanor, leading to jail and fines – is clearly an attempt to avoid the impact of the federal decision in “Martin v. Boise,” which held that criminalization of homeless people for living outside was unconstitutional “cruel and unusual” punishment unless each and every person had access to indoor shelter. Already taken to court for putting this on the ballot, the city will face strong legal challenges to this wasteful, expensive, futile, cruel ordinance.
The Summit thus opened against the background of a dire situation, one that could not be “solved” over a period of 2 days even with the best intentions, and even with the involvement and guidance of unhoused attendees, many active in the Homeless Union and other local organizations, and committed to developing awareness and political power. According to attendee Janeen Kemp, who just emerged from a stint of homelessness, never to return, “I don’t want to just keep talking. I don’t believe that anything is coming from our current government. They are taking public funds without the public knowing how it is being spent. People are making money from our problems. We are one of the richest states in the nation and the richest cities in the state. We need to have more power and influence in making our demands.”
The Keynote Address
Niki Jones, keynote speaker, opened the Summit with a powerful land acknowledgement. “We hold this summit on stolen indigenous land, Valley Miwok and Nisenan land. Settler colonialism, the theft of land, is still the structure of our society.
“In our conversations here, we must address the reality of the white supremacist rule. Not far from this spot stands Sutter’s Fort – the first recorded encampment after the initial removal of local indigenous people. Sutter cleared those people out. It’s a racist, ablist practice, harkens back to Jim Crow. The move to “clean up” or remove people, — what unhoused people are experiencing today — is an old system and an old strategy.”
As Niki enjoined us, “we have a world to fight for. Care and feel the pain in caring. Share what we need…family, neighborhood, organization. Learn to lean into survival strategies, up lift where people are. This is war and these are the front lines. We practice solidarity, not just charity.”
The Roundtable Workshops
On Saturday, community summit roundtable workshops were organized around themes of empowerment in the struggle against homelessness.
Acceptable Emergency Housing Strategies,” coordinated by Crystal Sanchez of the Homeless Union and, addressed how to reshape the endless cycling of unhoused people through the shelter system, including mass shelters, city provided encampments, and motel rooms, a system in which short term stays, lack of privacy and dignity, and arbitrary mismanagement is the norm. Enormously expensive and yet desperately inadequate – the central question discussed was how to make the city and county accountable for the horrendous abuses, and how to shift resources to housing instead of short-term shelter.
Two roundtable workshops, dealt with Law and Policy, the first one focusing on criminalization, sweeps and advocacy, coordinated by Bob Erlenbusch of SRCEH and Laurance Lee of Legal Services, and the second, on legal rights, litigation, and legislation, coordinated by Mark Merin. Participants tackled the question of how to organize and block the new ordinances that outlaw encampments, and how to file lawsuits in federal court challenging the sweeps, displacements, and loss of property as unconstitutional under Martin v. Boise.
Dr. MK, from UC Davis Family Medicine and Sacramento Street Medicine, and Flojuane Cofer of Public Health Advocates, led the roundtable workshop “What the Health,” focusing on how to improve and expand medical care by taking services out to encampments and making them accessible and friendly to the people most in need. Innovation and outreach was the emphasis of the day.
The roundtable workshop on “Housing and Homelessness Prevention” brought in the Sacramento Tenants Union and Peter Bell of Sacramento Steps Forward to lead the discussion about the impact of a private, profit-driven housing market, looking at ways to preserve, fund, and build public housing to deal with the crisis.
The Take Aways
Throughout the Community Summit, we put the emphasis on solutions – as unhoused people, visionaries, activists – each and every roundtable workshop addressed the question of how can we come together to reimagine and bring about the changes we need to see.
As we work on follow through, these are the major themes that emerged in group discussions:
Organize, organize, organize. Bring organizations together, outreach to new communities, involve unhoused people with trainings and strategic planning; prioritize work with the Homeless Union and other unhoused leaders to establish a commission of homeless people and their allies to oversee public policies.
Get the facts and information we need to drive our policy demands and audit public expenditure – how are funds being spent, who is responsible, and what are their goals as compared to ours? How can we hold accountable the powers that be?
Defeat Measure O – raise consciousness, raise funds, get out the vote, and fight the narrative that stigmatizes and stereotypes homeless people as criminals, deviants, and pariahs.
Remake the system of short-term stays at temporary shelters and city-run encampments — but overall prioritize a campaign to build, build, build public housing while supporting informal, self-initiated and self-governed living spaces with health services, survival necessities, garbage pick-up and sanitation.
Stop criminalization of people living outside – through litigation if necessary – and publicize the trauma and devastation caused by using sweeps and zoning enforcement to break up informal encampments, confiscate belongings, and displace homeless people.
We are working toward a full report on the recommendations that were developed at the Community Summit and we are making contact with the dozens of people who attended – almost a hundred over the two days, including 28 people who came from their encampments and tents and brought their perspectives, their experience, and their wisdom.
A Special Thank You to Westminster Presbyterian Church and to Community Summit Sponsors: Sacramento Loaves & Fishes; Safe Ground Sacramento; Western Regional Advocacy Project; Organize Sacramento; Uptown Studios; Paul Boden; Muriel Strand
And thank you to the contributions of the many participating groups, including but not limited to: 28 individuals that are living unhoused in Sacramento; Black Zebra Project; David Barnitz (Westminster Presbyterian Church Deacon); Decarcerate Sacramento; Interfaith Council of Greater Sacramento; Justice 2 Jobs Sacramento; League of Women’s Voters, Homeless Committee; Legal Services of Northern CA; Mark Merin (Law Office of Mark E Merin); Mental Health First; National Lawyers Guild; No on Measure O; People’s Budget Sacramento; Peter Bell (Sacramento Steps Forward); Public Health Advocates; Punks for Lunch; Rebekah Turnbaugh (St. John’s Lutheran Church); Sacramento Area Congregations Together; Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee; Sacramento Homeless Union; Sacramento Poor People’s Campaign: A National Campaign for Moral Revival; Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness; Sacramento Street Medicine; Sacramento Services Not Sweeps Coalition; Sacramento Tenants Union; Tim Brown (SHOC founder & SRCEH); UC Davis Willow Clinic; Women’s Empowerment
The SHOC office is closed all this week (September 5 – 9) due to the extreme heat. We don’t have new papers in yet anyway. New issue of Homeward Street Journal will be available next Thursday, September 15.
When non-profits in our regional join together for a collaborative fundraising celebration! Support SHOC’s important work and/or other impactful non-profits in our region! Here’s a link to our page to find out a lot of details about our organization and the work we do:
The term “banishment” was coined by Pete White of the LA Community Action Network (LACAN) to describe how unhoused people are forcibly relocated even though they have no place to go.
There used to be talk of housing the homeless in government circles – like the “Housing First” model that promised actual housing as the solution to the crisis. In actual fact, California needs over a million new housing units by 2030 to meet the needs of low-income people, according to the California Housing Partnership.
Today there are disturbing signs at every level of government that the goal of actually housing people who can’t afford rent has been abandoned, given the scope of the unmet need. This is happening in a political environment where our elected representatives, for the most part, congratulate each other on their token efforts. Looking at this year’s 2 billion spending plan for homeless issues in the state budget, Christopher Martin, policy director for Housing California, pointed out, “There’s not a dime [in the 2022 budget] that is going towards rental assistance or permanent housing.”
Beyond the basic fact that half the spending on homelessness has been committed to law enforcement for years, current proposals and plans in the city of Sacramento exemplify the new, more intensive focus on management and control of unhoused people — rather than funding actual housing.
Daniel Conway, an advisor to a coalition of business and real estate interests in LA, the “LA Alliance for Human Rights,” has filed paperwork to start collecting signatures for a ballot measure, the “Emergency Temporary Shelter and Enforcement Act of 2022.” If passed, the initiative would mandate immediate removal of thousands of people from their informal encampments into newly constructed “emergency shelter space and/or emergency camping space.” The measure is designed to be an end-run around the 2018 federal case, Martin v. Boise, that blocked the arrest of people for the crime of living outside. The court reasoned that punishment of unhoused people who had nowhere to go violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment.
According to Joe Smith, local activist and advocate, the proposed initiative would require “a big round-up” of thousands of unhoused people. The City Manager would have 60 days to set up facilities for 75% of homeless population – currently as many as 7500 people – then 120 days to get people into shelters and camps through “daily outreach” to “relocate” them from existing “illegal” encampments, prior to “enforcement” of the law. The measure would require massive surveillance of open spaces around Sacramento by law enforcement, not only to enforce the initial thrust but also to prevent new camps from springing up. Vast city-funded shanty towns would have to be built to contain those who have been forcibly relocated. “What’s it going to look like?” Joe Smith asked during our conversation. “Haiti?”
In August of 2021, the city of Sacramento authorized a “Comprehensive Plan,” which is, according to the Mayor, similar to the proposed initiative, in that it authorizes 20 new sites for homeless shelters, camping areas, and tiny homes, intended serve a total of 2,209 people at any given time as a temporary step toward permanent housing. As of this year, the city has not yet opened most of the new sites, and the numbers of people actually housed as a result of the Plan has been miniscule, given the millions spent. For example, the City’s motel stay program served about 1,000 people – but only 59 moved into permanent housing after leaving.
As real housing recedes as an official priority, even the programs for sheltering the unhoused are being defunded. Sacramento’s city manager, for example, recently warned that all the city’s homeless programs were in danger of closing down this summer because of lack of funding.
This instability in funding is typical of various relief measures that focus on temporary housing. The last three motels set aside for “emergency” housing, which were funded by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management System) through the County to respond to COVID, will close in March and April, 2022, even though the pandemic still rages through unhoused communities. The County has refused to continue funding these rooms, even though they were reserved for the most vulnerable unhoused people – the old and sick. No proposal or concrete plan for housing the evicted tenants has surfaced.
In this environment of police management and control, sweeps and clean-ups of encampments have become a daily, savage reality, with six sweeps in the week following February’s homeless count. In January, the city began an assault on cars and RV’s parked on the streets, tagging hundreds for removal, and stripping the occupants of the last stable shelter they possess.
At the state level, Newsom’s budget for 2022 set aside over billion dollars for encampment “clean-ups” – primarily to uproot unhoused residents – in a new program called “Clean California.” The effort is ramping up – Caltrans, the state highway agency, conducted just 19 sweeps clearing homeless encampments in 2020. By October of 2021, Caltrans had destroyed 347 encampments; in 2022, the agency will spend almost $36 million on “clean-ups.” (CalMatters, “Will California’s plan for clearing homeless camps work?” 12/15/21.) Caltrans typically offers nothing in the way of housing or even shelter to displaced residents.
The policy and practice of forcing the relocation of unhoused people to official camps or shelters, and of destroying informal encampments, has, of course, been the main official response to homelessness for the last 20 years or more, and it is logical that these tactics would intensify as the number of people living outside multiplies. Data collection from the unhoused population has also increased.
In the past year, Sacramento homeless agencies discovered that seventy percent of the people accessing services and housing had never been logged into the federally funded Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). The city moved to set up additional data tool to manage the homeless population, called the “Coordinated Access System,” (also known as the “Coordinated Entry System”) which was recently described as “transformative” in a rhapsodic report to the Sacramento City Council.
According to the UN Reporteur on Extreme Poverty and Civil Rights, Philip Austin, HMIS collects
“extremely personal information like social security numbers, race and ethnicity, prior residency, what services a person has used, health status (including disabilities, pregnancy status, HIV status, mental health), education, employment, and whether they have experienced domestic violence. Anyone using the services is placed into the database, no matter the length of time one was in a program, and the information is kept for years.” (Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Automating Banishment Report.)
As Philip Austin reported in 2017, “many homeless individuals feel deeply ambivalent about the millions of dollars that are being spent on new technology to funnel them to housing that does not exist…Computers and technology cannot solve homelessness.”
Massive data collection enhances police control and management of unhoused populations. This is apparent from the contents of the survey, which asks
“homeless individuals to give up the most intimate details of their lives…including whether they engage in sex work, whether they have ever stolen medications, how often they have been in touch with the police and whether they have ‘planned activities each day other than just surviving that bring [them] happiness and fulfillment.’ Many [unhoused people] feel they are giving up their human right to privacy in return for their human right to housing.” (UN Report 2017)
The other very real concern is that “…the risk of these databases being accessed by local law enforcement and DHS including ICE,” which is very high. In 2017, LAPD told the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights that CES was ‘a gold mine’ of information that was ‘only one policy decision away’ from police mining.” (Automating Banishment Report.)
While the overall picture is bleak, the movement for housing as human right is growing more organized, more aware, and more vocal, as it exposes and opposes the dangerous trend toward forced removal of unhoused people to official camps. The situation has become so extreme – so raw and brutal – that the right to housing has been thrust forward not only as the humane solution, but also as the practical solution. Police destruction of encampments brings trauma and incalculable harm to residents – that’s the cruelty of it – but it is also futile and a waste of public resources.
Josh Barocas, at the University of Colorado, who is quoted in the CalMatters article, put into words what is obvious about the “clean-ups” and massive sweeps being launched at the state and local level: “It’s what I would call social theater,” he said. “It’s showing your neighborhood that you are trying to do something by literally sweeping the problem away….The only way to actually fix this problem is to get at the social and structural issues that are perpetuating poverty, perpetuating homelessness in the city.”
Unhoused Students Invited To Empowerment Faire at Sac State
At Sacramento State, thousands of students are living in their vehicles, in parking lots and other secluded places, or staying on couches and doubling up, because they do not have and cannot afford housing. Surveys in 2018 by the Chancellor estimated 12% of students – 4200 — have experienced homelessness.
The Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee will be coordinating and assisting the Sacramento State CARES office (Crisis Assistance and Resource Education Support) to present resources for unhoused students at the upcoming Empowerment Faire on April 4, 2022 at 12:45 pm. Many community organizations, including SHOC and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, will be tabling at the Faire to address issues that matter to students, to motivate them to give back to their communities, and to offer them the opportunity to apply their academic knowledge to social justice. The Center for Race, Immigration, and Social Justice (CRISJ) at Sacramento State is sponsoring the event.
The SHOC office will only be open Mondays and Thursdays from 11AM to 12PM. This is only temporary until we get through the Covid surge. Office is mainly used only for Homeward distributors to pick up their papers.
The Fight of Unhoused People for The Right to Live Intensifies As the Need for Housing Becomes Undeniable
by Cathleen Williams
The City’s Attack on Unhoused People Living In Vehicles
A devastating attack on the homeless was carried out this December by the destruction of the only homes that many unhoused people have in Sacramento, California. Hundreds of people were impacted after the City “tagged” the vehicles where they were living on Commerce Circle, a secluded side street. The City towed 18 cars and RV’s that stayed parked because their unhoused owners did not have the money to get them running, even as storms brought freezing rain to the region. Many more vehicles – 3,000 total – have been identified by the City and targeted for towing.
Sacramento’s “Services Not Sweeps” Coalition, a coalition of activist groups, the Sacramento Homeless Union, and the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, Democratic Socialists of America, along with others, protested the City’s action at the City Council meeting on December 14.
“Activists said the crackdown could not come at a worse time, with all shelters full on any given night, temperatures forecast to dip into the 30s this week, rain in the forecast Saturday and Sunday, and no warming centers yet open. Four homeless people in Sacramento County died of hypothermia last winter.
“‘With temperatures dropping they are giving permission to remove the only shelter that families have,’ said Crystal Sanchez, president of the Sacramento Homeless Union. ‘We are getting reports of children as young as 2 months old to seniors losing RVs. The streets of Sacramento are extremely dangerous not only due to the elements of weather but of physical harm.’”(Theresa Clift/Sacramento Bee)
According to Katie Valenzuela, the progressive councilwoman elected last year in a campaign that was responsive to the needs of the working and poor neighborhoods in the central city, “We should not be wasting resources on further traumatizing and harming people who have no place to go, particularly when those actions take away the only shelter that people have during the rainy and cold season which can be life threatening to people living outdoors,” Valenzuela said in the post quoted in the Sacramento Bee.
Political Support for Unhoused People at the City Council Met by Resistance from Multi-Millionaires
At its December 14 meeting after the widely publicized towing and displacement of the unhoused community at Commerce Circle, the Sacramento City Council considered Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s “Resolution on Protocols for Encampment Enforcement Actions” that would have banned the towing of vehicles where unhoused people are living unless alternative shelter was offered.
In addition to the Mayor, two others voted for the Resolution – newly elected councilwomen Katie Valenzuela and May Vang, part of the wave of young, grass roots candidates who are winning elections across the country as voters and activists enter the political arena to fight for the very survival of poor and working constituents.
The Resolution, even if it had passed, would have had little practical effect. It did not change existing laws or mandate new practices. Some have suggested it was a form of political theatre. This is not surprising. Most council members — with the exception of the two new council members who voted for the Resolution – have been dominated by the priorities of multi-millionaire property owners and their organizations, who contribute tens of thousands of dollars to local campaigns. Their opposition to rent control is only one sign of their alignment against the needs of poor and working residents.
According to the podcast, VOICES: River City, “campaign contributions from explicitly anti-rent-control political action groups to Sacramento’s city council members and Mayor Darrell Steinberg for their 2018 and 2020 campaigns near $54,000… Council members also received thousands in campaign donations from real estate developers and property managers…” Among the actions that have reflected the power of these forces are the following:
The council has refused robust rent control in the midst of the housing crisis.
They have saddled the City with decades of debt (half a billion and counting) to build a downtown sports arena, following the model of other “entertainment cities” to bring up property values for the benefit of the few who own neighboring venues.
They have subsidized development that has impacted whole neighborhoods, accelerating gentrification and displacement.
They have resolutely refused to require developers to build low-income units as a condition of permitting luxury housing construction.
They made no plans to preserve “naturally” affordable housing before it was snapped up by investors.
They have made few attempts to site and secure the housing that is needed for the tens of thousands who are housing insecure or homeless, funding squalid, under-served encampments, and “emergency” shelters instead.
They have sat back while thousands have been subjected to traumatizing police raids and sweeps.
Their pursuit of development in the City has failed to invest in the neighborhoods where most poor and working people live
Despite all this – and even though the Resolution would have been limited in its effect – the Resolution is an important sign that the housing crisis, and the resulting explosion of tent and vehicle encampments on every street and park, is changing the political narrative in favor of the unhoused. The imperative of housing has become undeniable.
This is evident in the headline articles by the gifted local reporter Theresa Clift, exposing hardship and death in the unhoused community. It is evident in the growing organizational unity and moblization among the different activist groups across the region. There is a groundswell of awareness and concern.
At the same time, there is an upsurge of verbal attacks and vilification of unhoused people, a backlash, an attempt to push those in dire poverty outside the conversation and abandon them to police “management.” This was exemplified by the testimony of the “business community” at December’s city council meeting, all horrified at Resolution’s acknowledgement that it is a cruel and useless policy to displace and destroy vehicles where people are living when they have nowhere else to go.
Perhaps Mark Friedman’s comments were the most revealing. Mark Friedman was born to wealth – his family owns a mall and vast properties throughout the region – and he recently purchased the most expensive house ever sold in Sacramento. No doubt he starts each morning by slipping into the swimming pool that shimmers outside the glass doors of his bedroom.
Mark Friedman has no problems. As he describes it, his life is “charmed.” His goal for Sacramento is to transform it into “the Silicon Valley [meaning tech hub] of agribusiness;” his investments have reshaped our city in his interests without regard for the need for low income housing, quality education, and other public services. As far as he is concerned, unhoused people are simply like rats, worthless undesirables who stand in the way of the full realization of the wealth and property his life exemplifies.
Friedman started out his testimony by evoking fear of encampments as places populated by dangerous and demented criminals, listing drug abuse, theft, prostitution, violence and even murder – “We must not shrink from the reality we are dealing with,” he commented, we are “losing control of the city.” He spoke for pure class war on the poor.
There are couple of problems with his narrative, which is now being advanced with new fervor in the face of a rising public consensus that people need housing.
First, it is unseemly – inappropriate, improper, disgusting – for a multi-millionaire to attack those in dire poverty.
Secondly, vilifying – demonizing, degrading – poor and powerless people is a despicable tactic, the same one that has been adopted by the most rabid, racist, and hateful forces in American politics today.For example, Ashli Babbit, the Q-anon adherent, in her media posts repeating right wing propaganda about immigration, said, “This immigration thing, I guess I’m taking it personally, because I am here and you see the effects, you see the crime, you see the drugs…you see the rapes, you see all the gangs.”(LA Times).
Thirdly, the narrative is false, demonstrably false, because it disregards and denies the economic deprivation now inflicted upon masses of people, subjecting them to hardship and homelessness on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.
Who are the real criminals, the multi-millionaires or the vulnerable, shattered families trying to survive?