By Danae Snell
SACRAMENTO — People throughout most of California are upset about a new stay-at-home order going into effect in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
But what if you don’t have a home?
The Sacramento Homeless Union addressed that issue this week in a virtual conference to “demand the City of Sacramento City Council, and the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, to provide immediate, appropriate shelter and supportive resources to the newly evicted unhoused community members from the Stockton Boulevard Encampment.”
This virtual press conference opened the floor to five guest speakers physically involved in the fight for change.
Donta Williams and Crystal Sanchez from the Sacramento Homeless Union, Epidemiologist Dr. Flo Cofer, Union Legal Counsel and Poor Peoples Campaign campaigner Anthony Price, and Civil Rights Attorney Mark Merin appeared via Zoom to stress their concerns and outrage toward the lack of assistance given to those in their time of need.
Although this press conference lacked the ability to be physically present, it was clear many are frustrated and disappointed by the lack of resources being given to the homeless community.
Attorney Merin expressed his frustration by stating, “You would think anybody with half a brain would be able to figure out how to make in-roads with this problem.”
Sanchez also fiercely added, “Open the building and put people inside. We are not asking anymore. We are putting our officials on notice that if they do not house people, we will do whatever we need to do to survive.”
Not only does the homeless population have to survive outside among all the elements, but this year they are forced to do so in the midst of a pandemic.
As Sacramento County approaches winter, the homeless population is struggling and in need of help to survive.
The Sacramento Homeless Union requested an act of leadership be taken by those in power in July 2020, but thousands remain on the streets during the coldest times of the year.
Williams voiced during the conference, “Housing is our birth right and we have the ability to house all 11,000. We are in a pandemic that has affected all walks of life, but the unhoused has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus. No jobs or resources offered by the city or the city council.”
Attorney Prince is currently working on a lawsuit addressing this mistreatment of the unhoused.
According to Prince, the next stage of their litigation will be “to file suit against (county executive) Nav Gill, Sheriff Scott Jones, and it should also be pointed out that the county itself as a legal entity is responsible for the illegal diversion of millions of dollars in the Cares Act funds to pay the Sheriff Department’s salaries.”
These funds should have been utilized to assist the homeless during the pandemic. Instead it was wrongly used and violated the Cares Act, he charged, adding, “Specifically the Cares Act, which is section 601(d)(3), to disburse funds for purposes other than actually assisting in curbing the pandemic is prohibited.”
He further stated, “The Cares Act presumes that law enforcement salaries and expenses for law enforcement are acceptable under the Cares Act; however, that conduct, the activity, and the funds expended to the Sheriff’s Department and law enforcement generally have to be associated with COVID-19 assistance.”
Additionally, “We have a sheriff who publicly declared just the other day that he was not going to enforce public health orders and yet at the same time he makes the claim that the money provided to the Sheriff’s Department to pay salaries was part of curbing the COVID-19 pandemic, but you cannot have it both ways.”
This lawsuit is expected to be filed before Christmas, which is about two weeks away.
Dr. Cofer also added that “the Cares Act funding was provided to both the city and county to be able to bolster the impact and support the communities in responding to what was necessary to be able to provide for communities during the coronavirus pandemic, and at the county level in particular those funds were spent in ways that don’t reflect the immediate needs of our community.”
Dr. Cofer also addressed a key point that only 17 percent of hotels in the Sacramento area are occupied, “which means there are adequate single room facilities that could be proposed to fit the needs of the community.”
Merin shared that he “slept outside last night and the night before” with only “a sleeping bag and it was cold,” noting that the experience made him question how people living in this manner struggle and “can’t just get up and find a place to pee or use the restroom or the people that need water in the middle of the night.
“We are going to see more people dying,” Merin predicted.
Studies have shown that homeless people have 30 years less life expectancy than the average person. Conditions were unbearable before the coronavirus and now it is only getting worse.
As stated by Sanchez, it is important to remember, “We are in a crisis situation and when we are in a crisis situation, we have to do everything in our power to help people,” even though “for some reason, the city and the county continue to exempt the homeless.”
Many are struggling during these times of uncertainty, but if one thing is certain there is enough money and resources to help those in need, speakers agreed.
Danae Snell is a senior at Sacramento State majoring in Criminal Justice and is from Salinas, California.
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