By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO – The Sacramento Homeless Union, its president Crystal Sanchez and the California Homeless Union/Statewide Organizing Council are on a collision course with Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
They’re asking the state to weigh in, in their favor, to help the city’s unhoused.
On Wednesday, the homeless advocates lodged a complaint with the state of California against Steinberg and the City of Sacramento for violating the state’s “Shelter-in-Place” executive order and disregarding the Center for Disease Control guidelines against clearing of homeless encampments during the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter was addressed to CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra, CA Dept. of Public Health Director Sunia Angell, Sacramento County Dept. of Health Services and Steinberg, who also happens to be – ironically – the co-chair of the California Commission on Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
“Accordingly, as of this morning, we have formally lodged this complaint using the online procedures provided at the website of the Attorney General’s office as well as via electronic transmission and regular mail to the departments of health of the State and Sacramento County,” according to Homeless Union chief counsel Anthony Prince.
Monday, the union emailed a similar letter outlining the missteps of the City of Sacramento, advising that Sacramento police “continue to conduct sweeps of homeless persons from location to location and the physical dismantling of homeless encampments in direct violation of Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-33-20, issued March 19, 2020 which requires, inter alia, that all individuals living in the State of California to stay home or at their place of residence.”
The Homeless Union maintains that the Executive Order “requires everyone to shelter-in-place, and applies not only to those who have homes, but also to those whose ‘place of residence’ may be a homeless encampment or other public space,” or just a description of streets, parks or other places where the individual may live.
“Thus, by breaking up existing encampments, i.e. homeless persons’ residences, 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 complaint noted, adding that “by continuing to conduct sweeps of any scale, the City is directly endangering the lives of thousands of Sacramento residents, housed and unhoused alike.”
The union warned Steinberg in the Monday letter that the city was “endangering the lives of thousands of Sacramento residents, housed and unhoused alike” by continuing the sweeps, and the city was disregarding CDC instruction to “not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19…Unless individual housing units are available.”
Steinberg was advised in the Monday email letter that unless the police sweeps of the homeless were suspended by Tuesday evening, the union would “file complaints with the appropriate regulatory and law enforcement authorities.”
Steinberg didn’t respond to the letter, said the Homeless Union, which claims that members and volunteers supporters of the union have reported that the sweeps have continued despite “public pronouncements to the contrary by Mayor Steinberg.
“Our Union has mobilized over 100 medical students, doctors, restaurants, citizen volunteers and our own members to provide handwashing stations, hygiene materials, food and clothing to the homeless in the camps and on the streets,” said the union in the letter to the state Wednesday.
The union charged that the City of Sacramento and Steinberg are “directly interfering with our efforts to bring life-saving relief to those most at risk to themselves and others.”
Sacramento Homeless Union President Sanchez remarked Wednesday that “our officials’ lack of response is placing not only the unhoused but the housed as well at greater risk for contracting COVID-19.
“The bans and ordinances need to be temporarily suspended to keep unhoused in place. The policies that directly prevent those from being immediately housed need to be suspended immediately not in five weeks. Sacramento is playing a very dangerous game with its residents. Together we can stop this virus and state-created danger,” Sanchez said.
The legal wrangling was underscored Sunday when 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 arrested in the Land Park area, just a few miles from the State Capitol, when they entered a long-abandoned property to find that shelter.
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 for misdemeanor trespass, and released without being booked – not necessarily because the city was being generous.
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.
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