By Jose Medina
SACRAMENTO, CA – On the day after California’s reopening this week, the California Homeless Union hosted a march and press conference to remind the state of its continued negligence toward the needs of unhoused communities throughout California.
In a statement from the Sacramento Homeless Union, it was revealed that they are “already seeing a dramatic increase in police sweeps against the homeless and the clearing of encampments across the state.”
The statement also pointed out that “these actions are in violation of guidelines that are still in place from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that warn against such actions as well as Martin v. Boise, the federal court ruling against criminalizing the homeless.”
According to the statement, the state seems to further plan on hindering the lives of the unhoused, stating that the “state, county and city officials — including public health officers — are planning to drop the few measures that were put in place to shield the homeless from COVID-19.”
With the state’s reopening putting the unhoused community at risk, the California Homeless Union plans on holding Governor Gavin Newsom accountable for his promises on solving homelessness.
However, the Union is concerned, noting in their statement that “Governor Newsom has announced that $12 billion will go to ‘homelessness’ but we know that most of that money will be spent on police, phony ‘service providers’ and other members of the ‘homeless/industrial complex’ instead of actual, real time housing.”
The press conference Wednesday was designed to call on all housing rights organizations throughout California to demand investment in housing for the unhoused and to end the sweeps.
It was a clear day as allies, activists, and members of the unhoused communities fervently gathered with signs at the press conference.
The signs were adorned with bold font that read, “FIGHT POVERTY! NOT THE POOR!”
Crystal Sanchez, president of the Sacramento Homeless Union, was in attendance and fully captured the frustration felt by those yearning for change, but who have been widely ignored by those in power.
Her mission, alongside everyone in attendance, is to end homelessness and guarantee the human right to a free, healthy, and happy life.
Despite their efforts in advocating for the unhoused community to local government, they have largely been met with deafening silence, and empty promises year after year, and decade after decade.
Sanchez recalled, “I know when we ask for help from the city or county we get looked at wrong.”
Now, with the impending threat of sweeps, a coalition between the Sacramento Homeless Union, Punks with Lunches SAC, and the Poor People’s Campaign among others are calling upon the State of California to stop the sweeps and invest in healthcare and accessible housing.
Sanchez said that “we are being kicked out of Project Roomkey hotel rooms or forced into and then wrongfully evicted from shelters.”
She reminded everyone in attendance that sweeps are deadly when they disperse unhoused members of the community, forcing them to be separated from services and making them move in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.
Sanchez stated, “Sweeps cause conflicts in neighborhoods, sweeps cause people to go where lights are in front of local businesses. Sweeps cause people to lose vital survival gear. Sweeps kill and sweeps solve nothing.”
She pointed to the negative impacts that sweeps would have on the unhoused community, stating “that these people are at higher risk…and COVID is still active in encampments.”
Sanchez made it clear that the Sacramento community’s tax dollars are funding the violence that the unhoused face with these sweeps and that the community has the right to organize and end this funding.
She stated “we are paying to criminalize people outside, thanks to their [government officials] failures in their policies. It is time that the state quit collecting precious funding from us when we never see a solution, not even a cooling center for the unhoused.”
She then drew attention to the police who were stationed nearby the press conference and said, “Everybody look at this corner and over at that corner, that’s your resource dollars being spent on peaceful protestors right there.”
Knowing that funding is being used more toward criminalizing the unhoused community, she called on everyone to mobilize and organize for housing rights adding, “It’s time to unite and stand together.”
Shannon, a mother of three children and a member of both the Sacramento Homeless Union and unhoused community, spoke about the pain of seeing her children being taken away from her by Child Protective Services (CPS).
Shannon informed everyone that “even though I am in a motel, I’m still not allowed to get my kids back.” She continued by saying “just because I’m homeless does not mean I do not deserve my kids…money is not the key to a loving happy healthy family.”
Shannon iterated that “these sweeps take our trailers, our homes and they get systems like CPS involved.” She added that instead of solving the issue of homelessness the government decides to fund the criminalization and separation of unhoused families.
Shannon reminded those in attendance that this is a form of violence against the unhoused, stating that “these sweeps are hurting our families, there are so many families with children out here on the side of the road but we don’t see them because we are terrified of coming out of our cars or trailers in fear that people will call CPS and take our kids.”
She demanded CPS to stop the separations of unhoused families, and scolded institutions for targeting the unhoused community instead of helping them, explaining that “we are all targeted because they think we’re easy targets, that don’t know our rights and can’t afford attorneys.”
Adaline, a member of the unhoused community and caretaker of her grandchild, talked about the lack of accessible resources for her and her grandchild to survive and thrive.
She mentioned, “It’s hard for us, there is nothing for us.”
Adaline also mentioned that handwashing stations and bathrooms for the unhoused are “horribly kept” and are not safe for her and her grandchild in the midst of a deadly pandemic. She viewed this as a sign of an apathetic government, negligent to the needs of the most vulnerable.
Another member of the Sacramento Homeless Union, Warren Brian, criticized not only the apathy of public officials but the lack of immediacy practiced by a bureaucratic government.
He recalled a time when he and his ex-wife were unhoused for months and that “the resources out there were next to nothing.”
It wasn’t until his ex-wife took “several trips into the ER because of her chronic pulmonary disease and pneumonia that a social worker at Mercy General said she needed to be housed so they got people to get us into section 8 and connected to other programs.”
Even then, Brian recollected that the process “was an actual waiting game way longer than 30 days, they got us signed up to those programs in the middle of summer, and it was right in December where we finally got our apartment.”
He concluded that “we don’t have enough housing or enough resources toward getting people immediately off the streets.”
As people throughout the nation celebrate the reopening of their states and gradual return to normalcy, the unhoused are still in limbo.
Faye Wilson Kennedy, co-chair of the California Poor People’s Campaign, reminded everyone that “we are still in a crisis, even though the public health order has been lifted we are still in a crisis because too many of our brothers and sisters are unhoused.”
Kennedy mentioned that the unhoused do not have stable housing in Sacramento, noting that “the average cost in Sacramento for a one bedroom is $1,800 a month.” She hypothetically questioned “Who can afford that?”
She acknowledged that there is still much work to be done for the unhoused community, and that in the past “we’ve had to fight really hard to get hand washing stations and porta potties for those on Stockton Blvd. and other encampments throughout Sacramento.”
She then rallied everyone in attendance to chant “FIGHT POVERTY! NOT THE POOR!”
Kennedy advised everyone to take these words to heart because “the war on the poor is immoral” and that “the only thing you and I have to lose are the chains of oppression.”
She pleaded to those living in housing to hold public officials accountable and walk hand-in-hand with the unhoused community to end homelessness, build accessible housing, and create cooling centers because there are “many of us are one or two paychecks away from being unhoused ourselves.”
It was clear that everyone in attendance was fed up with the lack of compassionate solutions to the homelessness issue.
Reverend Pamela Anderson, of the Parkview Presbyterian Church, conveyed this emotion of frustration by chanting: “Time’s up when 11,000 homeless people are on the streets here in Sacramento.
“Time’s up when 70 of them are children.
“Time’s up when there is not enough drinking water.
“Time’s up we cannot drown out the cries of the vulnerable.
“Time’s up, we need to listen and take a stand for those who are unhoused.”
Jose graduated from UC Davis with a BA in Political Science and has interned for the California State Legislature. He is from Rocklin, CA.
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