By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO – Three homeless people – in a brave and blatant attempt to abide by the state of California’s “shelter in place” mandate in response the coronavirus pandemic – were nonetheless arrested here just a few miles from the State Capitol late Sunday when they entered a long-abandoned property to find that shelter.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Sacramento was threatened with legal action if the City didn’t end its sweeps and other “displacement” of the homeless in violation of Center for Disease Control guidelines and Gov. Newsom’s executive order to “shelter-in-place.”
Sunday, the three “unhoused” occupants were surrounded by dozens of City of Sacramento police officers, who broke into the house with shields and drawn weapons.
Those arrested were cited and released without being booked – the Sacramento Superior Court presiding judge last week ordered local law enforcement to cite and release, and not take to jail, people breaking laws unless violent in nature because of the COVID-19 threat to the county jail.
“At a time when the entire State of California has been asked to shelter in place, unhoused populations remain unprotected, with nowhere to go, no house to shelter in, no sanitary supplies, and no means by which to honor social distancing requirements,” read a statement released by those arrested and their supporters.
The Muir Way property is, according to the organizers, owned by Wedgewood Properties. Protestors identified the real estate group as being “the same home-flipping giant which owned the vacant property which Moms4Housing in Oakland moved into recently.”
“Several groups of unhoused people in Los Angeles have taken similar actions in the last week, all inspired by Moms4Housing, attempting to call attention to the real need of the thousands of unhoused people across the state who are at high risk in the midst of this pandemic,” said the unhoused Sacramento group.
In a letter directed to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who is also co-chair of the California Commission on Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the Sacramento Homeless Union, Local Union President Crystal Sanchez and the California Homeless Union/Statewide Organizing Council, said Sacramento is violating the governor’s orders.
“Sacramento police continue to conduct sweeps of homeless persons from location to location in direct violation of Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-33-20, issued March 19,2020 which requires that ‘all individuals living in the State of California to stay home or at their place of residence,’” said the letter written by Anthony D. Prince, the homeless union General Counsel.
“Currently, owing, among other factors, to the failure of the City of Sacramento to address the already existing housing crisis, there are thousands of persons whose current residences are the streets, the homeless encampments, the parks, under freeway overpasses and by the railroad tracks.
“These locations are, for legal purposes considered residences, as evidenced, amongst other things, by California Voting Rights laws which permit a homeless person to register to vote by merely describing streets, parks or other location where they live, or, in most cases, forced to live for lack of affordable housing. Thus, by breaking up existing encampments under any pretext and sweeping the homeless from place to place, the City of Sacramento is violating California State Executive Order No. N-33-20,” the letter noted.
The correspondence argued that “…the City’s policy and practice of breaking up existing homeless encampments directly conflicts with instructions from the (CDC) rules that states: ‘Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.’ Thus, by continuing to conduct sweeps of any scale, the City is directly endangering the livers of thousands of Sacramento residents, housed and unhoused alike.”
The Homeless Union letter then threatens the City of Sacramento, urging the City “immediately suspend all sweeps of homeless persons by police or other city departments and comply with both Executive Order N-33-20 and cease and desist from clearing homeless encampments as directed by the U.S. Center for Disease Control.
“Be advised that the Homeless Union will continue to bring direct, life-saving support to our members and the broader homeless community, which will include monitoring and documenting for possible legal action against your continued endangerment of public safety.”
The letter gives the city until close of business Tuesday to issue a “written order suspending homeless sweeps and the clearing encampments,” or the union will “notify the appropriate state and federal regulatory and law enforcement authorities.”
Gov. Newsom is copied on the letter.
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