River City Food Bank

by Sally Ooms

Things are winding down at the River City Food Bank at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. “But they are still coming,” says Executive Director Eileen Thomas. “We’ve had 156 today and will have more.” Volunteers hand out about 180 food bags a day to individuals and households,five days a week. By the end of the month, numbers will reach 5,200-5,500 households from the Sacramento area, she says.

“Especially in the summer, we have a lot. We seRiverCity2e people in the summer we haven’t seen for months. Families with children have no lunch or breakfast available through the schools. That’s two extra meals a day and that’s tough for families that are already stretching to make ends meet.”

That population is a result of all different difficulties, like people “in between addresses” (her expression for homeless folks), and anyone who is so poor they can’t meet basic living expenses, like rent, utility bills, medical care or transportation costs. Eileen says a third of the people who come for food are the working poor. “People come to see us when they absolutely need to. Anyone with children and a minimum wage job will be at the food bank.”

River City is the oldest continuously serving food bank in Sacramento County. The concept is to provide healthy emergency food and other assistance such as referrals, senior programs, nutritional counseling, cooking classes and children’s snack bags.
Besides the areas for storage and pick up of food, the small space at 1800 28th Street, manages to house cubicles for people to talk about private issues with volunteers versed in the services that are available to help them become self-sufficient.

“We call this a choice food bank,” she says. “Most other food banks have prepackaged the food that recipients will get. Here they have a choice. Food is a personal thing. Maybe you don’t like canned potatoes. Here you can say that you don’t care for them, but that you really like diced tomatoes.

“We have personal shoppers who talk with the clients and treat them with respect as they go through the line. It takes about 20 volunteers a day to make this place hum.” Volunteers are the food bank’s lifeblood. Hundreds of them annually put in 11,000 hours of work helping stock the shelves and put together the bags for each individual or family moving through the line. Eileen calls the place a “food-in, food-out food bank. We buy food at a good price and we share it with others. When anything fresh comes in, it goes right out.”
They rely on food donations and surplus food donations. Staples they purchase on a bulk basis—peanut butter, tuna, eggs and dairy products. Most of their money comes from generous individuals and foundations.

Eileen Thomas

Eileen Thomas

Much care is taken to provide programs for the most vulnerable members of the community, like seniors. The food bank’s MIM program, Most Important Meal, offers weekly bags of healthy breakfast foods. They pack up and deliver kits—enough for a week—with V8 juice, crackers and cheese, granola bars, packaged and fresh fruit and gluten free granola. Eileen says the food bank is really filling a need for low-income seniors.
Then there are the BackSnacks for the kids, nutritious snack bags designed to tide children over the weekend when they might not be getting adequate food. These they deliver to seven schools in the area on Fridays during the school year.

Eileen takes me back to the area where food is stacked on shelves and the walls are lined with freezers and refrigerators. Fresh produce that day is cabbage, slaw, zucchinis and yellow squash, chopped salad with broccoli and bagged lettuce.

In cooperation with the Sacramento Natural Food Co-op and the Sacramento Cares Community Program, they educate clients about good food and healthful food preparation. The food bank gives recipes, this week for lentils. “It’s great protein,” says Eileen. “But lots of people don’t know what to do with them.”

CalFresh Outreach also assists food stamp recipients in obtaining food they need for good health, under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In short, the food bank takes advantage of as many resources as possible to educate clients about eating well on an inadequate budget. “People are often new to poverty,” Eileen says. “To spread the word, we go to fairs, schools, college campuses and WIC, (the USDA nutritional service program).”

Eileen describes her volunteers as fabulous. “We are really a volunteer-fueled operation.” And they have to be versatile. “Every day is different.” A day she remembers in particular is Oct. 21, 2010, when the building they occupied on 27th Street burned to the ground. The day after they were serving out of Goodwill truck. Soon after, Trinity Cathedral offered a space. When it became too little, the food bank moved across the street to a Sutter Medical Center facility. In 2011, they finally had enough money to purchase their present location.

“In downtown Sacramento, there is a need for food. Hungry people there have to make their way to Loaves and Fishes or us. Everywhere else is at churches outside the major city area, so you have to live close to light rail and bus lines or be able to drive the freeways.”

She is excited that the parking garage across the street will soon have the Sacramento Food Co-op as a tenant. “This will bring two types of diverse people (two economic bases) together. We want good food for everyone. They are a fabulous partner and it’s going to be even better when they are close.”

River City Food Bank keeps serving the growing number of people who come through the door. “If there is anything we can do to raise people out of poverty, we are dedicated to doing that—one less person is going to be hungry and be in line.”

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Oak Park Sol

by Sally Ooms

It’s the first evening of summer, the end of a long, fairly  hot day, but the community garden is a welcoming spot. Families, couples and single folks are strolling in for the third in a series of cooking classes3 at the tables in back of Oak Park Sol Community Garden on Broadway.

Tyler Wescott, a certified Food Literacy Center “genius,” is dividing up what can only be described as beautiful fresh produce among the three tables. On the back, his T-shirt says: “Ask me anything.” So I do. Tonight the recipes adults and children will be learning to make are white bean hummus—with squash, cucumbers and purple carrots cut up to dip into it—and SunButter yogurt parfait with seasonal berries on top. SunButter is a brand made from sunflower oil, cane syrup and salt, to satisfy the “unsaturated rather than saturated fat argument,” Tyler says.

A major thrust of the organization is to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables. And to prove to them that those things can taste outstanding. Tyler will be the instructor this evening for this all-volunteer endeavor. His second in command is Tara Martinez who is not yet through the academy but is savvy enough to lend a hand with teaching the creation of parfaits. Tara is working at Whole Foods in Davis but about to transition to a job in Sutter General’s café.

Formerly she interacted with an Obama-supported program that introduced a fruit-of-the-day to schoolchildren. At recess, she would hand out, and teach kids how to eat, everything from oranges to papayas. “The kids didn’t know what half the stuff was,” Tara says. “It made me sad.”

She disc5overed that the Food Literacy Center, which just happened to be next door to the restaurant where she was a cook, was hosting a volunteer orientation. She signed up. “I love everything to do with cooking,” she says. She soon added her name to the volunteer list, which is about a hundred strong now. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of good people who intensions are all the same.”

Pat (no last name given) has lived in the neighborhood 33 years and is sitting on a bench waiting for the cooking to begin. She’s glad that children are being given a chance to become familiar with vegetables. “They wash, cut, stir, mix vegetables they normally wouldn’t try,” she says. The last session she attended they shredded beets, carrots and onions and topped the slaw with vinaigrette they fashioned themselves. “They would never have tried any of that before,” she says.

She likes to see the teens participating too. “It’s fun to watch them enjoy the results of their cooking. Particularly the veggie wraps they had us make one time.”

She has picked up tips too. Last session she learned to cut a green onion and deposit the part in water that you are not using in your dish. “It keeps growing and pretty soon you have your own chives.”

Farmers with plots donate some of the produce for the classes although most of it comes from other natural food resources. Today the donor is Heavy Dirt in Davis. Honey used in recipes is local, with the thought that people with allergies to various regional plants will find relief.

A crowd of all ages has gathered. There is room for about 10 people per table. Tyler introduces what they will be making today and points to a mouth-watering array on each table. Zuc6chinis mingle with purple basil. Yellow nectarines, plums and apricots call out to be eaten. Tyler talks about the white cannellini beans that people can find canned if they do not want to cook them themselves and describes them as a fun alternative in hummus.

People gather around the tables and begin. Mike Jones, holding baby Gage, looks on while his wife Gina and their other son dig in to help with hummus. The family lives a couple of blocks away across from McClatchy Park and heard about the events at the farmers’ market. Gina is a vegan, Mike says, so these vegetable-oriented foods really appeal to her. While he likes vegan cooking, he says he still likes his meat and dairy.

It is the second time for Max and his mother Rochelle. “He is getting more 8adventurous,” she says with a laugh. “He tried a yellow zucchini and he liked the Asian lettuce wraps and stone fruit salad last time. It is really helping his eating habits with this exposure.”

Heather is there with her two sons Elliot and Martin. Her younger son likes to “mix a bunch of foods together,” she says. “He’ll easily mix sweet and sour.” They have been to a few classes at the College Heights Library. Heather looks down at her son after he has sampled the parfait. “Is it amazing?” she asks. “OK, high five.”

Meanwhile, Randy Stannard is nearby showing people the worm box that Sacramento State Environmental Studies Program has made for the garden. Randy is president of the board at Oak Park Sol and works for Soil Born Farms. Soil Born promotes programs that encourage young people and adults to learn how to

Compost bin

Compost bin

produce healthful foods, and it mentors future farmers. The focus also is on teaching people to cook what they and others grow, and transforming urban spaces into community gardens.

In general, they focus on green space development, Randy says. “Transitioning vacant lots or any unused spaces—like funny empty corners on a block. We can turn these into productive spaces. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a community garden. Some spaces may be suitable for some sort of housing development. Or maybe a little park instead of dead grass and weeds.”

A major focus in the garden is to spread the concept and practice of urban gardening throughout this low-income neighborhood. Individual family plots are 15×10 feet, but all the gardeners take care of other areas of the garden. Within the community space is a kids’ garden, a wheel-chair accessible garden, a shade garden and native bee habitat—to mention a few. A greenhouse on the premises supports native plant growth.

The 11,600- foot perimeter is planted with native California shrubs and wildflowers to attract butterflies and native bees. Besides the cooking classes, anyone can come to free composting and gardening classes.

Randy and other food activists worked to see an ordinance passed by the City of Sacramento that promotes urban agriculture and is giving access to land for farmers. People with homes of an acre or more can support farmers. The ordinance took effect in April with the “purpose to support production and sale of locally grown foods, build community, increase public health and well being” and provide economic opportunities in areas that have been vacant or underutilized.1

These types of actions must be a neighborhood-led process, he stresses. “This community garden was started by the residents, spearheaded by Cara Jennifer Solis. Earl Withycombe inherited the land a few years ago. His family had owned the land since the 40s. The house associated with the land had burned down and he wanted to make it into something meaningful.”

Randy says that in 2011, dumpsters started removing debris from the area. “It was full of trash and drug paraphernalia. Now people are gardening here year-round.”

All photos by Sally Ooms



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DOJ says Criminalization of Homelessness is Cruel And Unusual

August 11, 2015 Press release from Western Regional Advocacy Project:

DOJ Determines Criminalization of Homelessness As Cruel And Unusual Punishment, Homeless Community and Advocates Applaud Department of Justice Briefing Acknowledging This On-Going Torture

San Francisco, CA– On Thursday, August 6, 2015, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) did something it has done only one other time in 20 years: they submitted a “statement of interest” in the US District Court of Idaho in opposition to the criminalization of homeless people. While it doesn’t carry any legal authority, it does tell the courts and most importantly, local governments, that the Justice Department of the US Government holds a legal opinion that to criminalize homelessness is cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of constitutional rights. The DOJ Statement of Interest validates homeless organizers and advocates claim that these laws violate the civil and human rights of those experiencing homelessness and poverty.

“Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity — i.e., it must occur at some time in some place,” says the filing. “ If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.”

The lawsuit was filed by homeless people who say that laws which penalize people for sleeping outdoors effectively make it illegal to be homeless. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prevents any type of cruel and unusual punishment and excessive fines. By outlawing a basic necessity of life such as sleeping, the lawsuit contends that the rules against outdoor camping in cities like Boise amount to punishing someone simply for existing. For once, the judicial system may decide in their favor, rather than continually penalizing them for being alive. If successful, the lawsuit would not remove the law from the books. It would, however, prevent enforcement of it in any meaningful way. Unfortunately, this means that the harassment by police may continue in the future. It would also set a precedent that could allow more lawsuits of this sort to stand on in order to protect homeless rights.

This recent move greatly underscores how important it is to pass he Right to Rest Act in California, Oregon, and Colorado. Legislation in all three states has been introduced to roll back the policy strategy used by most cities to cite and arrest for sleeping or resting in public.  It will free up resources to invest instead in housing and other real solutions towards ending homelessness. The case in Boise may prove to be the start of the tide turning back against the abuses homeless people have suffered.

I am glad to see the federal Department of Justice weigh in on this vital human and constitutional rights issue and I believe it will be helpful to our efforts to end the practice of arresting and citing people for resting or sharing food, which are not malicious, violent, or criminal behaviors but are actually acts of survival.” Said Colorado State Senator John Kefalas (co-sponsor of HB 1254 Colorado Right To Rest Act)

There are estimated to be more than 600,000 homeless people on any given night in the United States, and they have to sleep somewhere.  Shelters and housing options are available in some areas but not everywhere, and those that do exist often get filled to capacity immediately. Many homeless people are left with only one option: sleeping outdoors. With ordinances prohibiting outdoor sleeping in cities like Boise, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Sacramento, Oakland and Denver they are then arrested and either fined, incarcerated, or both. This only adds to their burden of homelessness by punishing it.  It does not provide solutions to those who need them.

Homelessness ends with a house, not handcuffs.

A copy of the DOJ brief can be found here: http://www.justice.gov/opa/file/643766/download

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WRAP Press Release #R2R

Contact: Northern California Paul Boden 415.430.7358
Southern California Eric Ares 213.458.3909

Right to Rest Coalition Looks to Build Support over Next Year for Legislation Protecting the Civil Rights of Homeless Individuals

California Homeless , anti-poverty, and civil rights advocacy groups will keep working throughout the rest of the 2015-2016 legislative session to pass a bill aimed at stopping the growing criminalization of people who are homeless.

SB 608, also known as the Right to Rest Act, was held in the State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee when it became apparent that more education and conversation was needed to secure the passage of the bill out of that committee. As a result, it did not meet the April 30 legislative deadline for bills to be voted out of their policy committees. Nevertheless, the bill author, Senator Carol Liu (D-Pasadena), has announced that she will continue to work toward passage of the bill in the second year of the two-year session.

At an April 7 Transportation and Housing Committee hearing, dozens of supporters filled the hearing room to voice their support for an end to laws that make it illegal for homeless individuals to exist in public space. While many senators agreed that criminalization is not the answer, they also voiced their support for more long-term solutions to homelessness. SB 608 supporters agree.

Passing the Right to Rest Act is part of ending homelessness because when we incarcerate people because they are engaged in activities like sitting and sleeping we are exasperating their ability to get out the very situation we are here to solve. Homelessness, said Angel, who has experienced homelessness and being arrested for resting and now is unable to qualify for housing because of the bad credit report she has as a result of the fines linked to those arrests. Angels entire testimony can be viewed at http://bit.do/Right2Rest.

Of course we know that the solutions to homelessness are housing and services, said Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, which coordinates the coalition of 140 organizations across the state that is supporting the Right to Rest Act. But until that happens, we cant continue to punish people simply for being poor and houseless so well continue our fight for the Right to Rest Act. However, there are also a number of bills we are supporting right now that aim to reduce homelessness and build more affordable housing.

So while the Right to Rest Act didnt get passed out of its policy committee this year, supporters are putting their energy behind a number of other bills that they see as complementary to their overall goal: creating housing, ending homelessness and protecting the civil rights of everyone. AB 718 (Chu) aims to stop the enforcement of laws that make it illegal for people to sleep in legally parked vehicles. A package of bills introduced by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins includes bills that would increase the California Low Income Housing Tax Credit by $300 million, which would provide much-needed funding for affordable housing development, create an ongoing source of funding for affordable-home development and job-creation by increasing the fee on real estate-related document recordings, and use a portion of the Proposition 47 funds to reduce recidivism through investment in rapid rehousing and housing supports for formerly incarcerated Californians.

Homelessness is the graphic representation of our societys unsolved issues: poverty, affordable housing, health care, and mental health. It is time to address the plight of the homeless head-on as a social issuenot a criminal issue, said Senator Liu. Citing homeless people for resting in public space can lead to their rejection for jobs, education loans, and housing, further denying them a pathway out of poverty.
I remain committed to working with all stakeholders on SB 608 to address this increasingly urgent issue.

More information about The Right to Rest Act can be found at:http://bit.do/CARight2RestAct.

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Right to Rest Act Update

The Right to Rest Act, SB608, was heard in California Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee on April 7. The vote was postponed. Before the vote comes up again next session we have a lot to do, sucP1040783h as growing our coalition, growing the number of supporters, and educating legislators and opposition how and why this bill is so important to homeless people and people of good conscience.

April 7 brought coalition members and supporters from Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Merced, Sacramento and others to rally together and testify at the hearing (a line going out the door).



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Right to Rest Rally & Hearing!

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Right to Rest

The Right to Rest Act, SB608, was introduced into California’s State Legislature by Senator Carol Liu this past February. This bill includes the following protections: 1. Right to move freely, rest, sleep, pray and shocHBRRight2Rest-top banner2be protected in public space without discrimination.;  2. Right to rest in public spaces and protect oneself from the elements in a nonobstructive manner.; 3. Right to occupy a legally parked vehicle.; 4. Right to share food and eat in public. Full bill language

The first hearing will be April 7 in the Senate Transportation & Housing Committee. More details will be forthcoming. Currently, the same bill is in Oregon and Colorado’s legislature. More information from WRAP

IMMEDIATE ACTION NEEDED! March 30 deadline for Organizations and Businesses to send a letter of support to Senator Liu to become a listed supporter of the bill. Here’s a sample letter. Cut and paste onto your letterhead, sign the letter, and email pdf to Senator Liu, emailing to the listed contacts.

Please send a support letter by March 30 – On your letter head
Sample Support Letter – Right to Rest Act of 2015, SB 608 (Liu)
Send by Email to:  Pboden@wraphome.org, Jbartholow@wclp.org and Joyce.Roys-Aguilera@sen.ca.gov
(You may fax the signed letter to Senator Liu’s office: 916.651.4925)

Date  _____ 

Honorable Carol Liu
California State Senate
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Right to Rest Act of 2015, SB 608 (Liu) – Support

Dear Senator Liu,

[Name of Your Organization] supports your bill, SB 608, which will end the criminalization of rest and accompanying violations of basic human and civil rights for all people, regardless of their housing status.  In doing so, SB 608 would encourage the diversion of expenditures on citing and jailing people for resting in public spaces on efforts to prevent homelessness.

California, with only 12 percent of the country’s overall population but 22 percent of its homeless population and 25 percent of its homeless veteran population, is at the epicenter of the criminalization of homelessness. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, California cities are substantially more likely than cities in other states to ban rest. While only 33 percent of non-California cities restrict this activity, 74 percent of California cities ban the practice.

Researchers from the Policy Advocacy Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley Law School analyzed the prevalence of these types of municipal codes restricting rest and sharing of food in 58 California cities for its report “California’s New Vagrancy Laws: The Growing Enactment and Enforcement of Anti-Homeless Laws in the Golden State.”  Researchers identified over 500 municipal laws criminalizing standing, sitting, resting, sleeping and sharing of food in public places as well as laws making it illegal to ask for money, nearly nine laws per city, on average. The study also found that the number of ordinances targeting those behaviors rose along with the rise in homelessness following the sharp decline of federal funding for affordable housing that was cut in the early 1980s and again with the Great Recession in 2008.

Criminalizing practices which are not criminal not only worsens the condition of people without homes, but also narrows their opportunities to escape homelessness. By acknowledging the failure of municipal laws that criminalize poverty and homelessness, we hope that passage of this legislation will improve the focus on more humane and effective responses to homelessness.

The Right to Rest Act of 2015 will end the practice of citing and imprisoning Californians for resting, sharing food or practicing religion in public.  Optional: Include 2 sentences about why your organization cares.

[Name of Your Organization] supports SB 608 and thanks you for introducing this important legislation.


Your Name and Title

cc:  Paul Boden, Western Regional Advocacy Project (Co-Sponsor)
Jessica Bartholow, Western Center on Law and Poverty (Co-Sponsor)

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