By Crystal Sanchez and Anthony Prince
The California Homeless Union and its local affiliate, the Sacramento Homeless Union, strongly opposes Mayor Steinberg’s “Master Siting Plan to Address Homelessness.” The “plan” is a deceptive and dangerous con job designed to circumvent the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Martin v. Boise, enrich wealthy contractors, strengthen the hand of the “homeless industrial complex” in controlling the unhoused and set the stage for Steinberg’s attempt to force the homeless to surrender their state and federal constitutional rights through an “obligation to accept shelter” ordinance which he admitted is now being drafted by the City Attorney.
The mayor’s plan is a multi-million-dollar subsidy to the contractors, the homeless industrial complex and the City, itself, that will not end homelessness. Behind the Mayor’s plan is the false narrative that people become homeless through some personal failing. In fact, the leading cause of homelessness is the soaring cost of housing. Sacramento currently lacks 63,000 units of affordable housing as required under federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines and a recent report by local media showed that 60,000 people can no longer afford to live here.
Can Darrel Steinberg be trusted? In 2019 Steinberg called a triage center that cost $40,000 a month to operate “a model facility”: it was topped with razor wire, filled with overflowing porta-potties and its “residents” were denied the most basic rights to freedom of association, travel and speech.
In the midst of the hurricane-force storms in January, the homeless lined up at a locked shelter that Steinberg failed open. At least six homeless persons died that night. Steinberg went before the City Council and accepted personal responsibility and called upon voters to “hold me accountable at the ballot box” although he later fought tooth and nail to halt a recall campaign launched by the Homeless Union.
Some are embracing the “Master Plan” because, on paper, it purports to help some 9,600 currently homeless persons. In reality, the plan will add only 300 “Tiny Homes” while the remainder of the proposal is for so-called “safe parking” or “safe ground” when the money could and should be spent on actual housing.
In fact, the City did just that when it recently used federal, state and city money to pay Saint John’s Program for Real Change to provide 11 modular homes which can house up to 55 people. As described in the Sacramento Bee, “The 865-square-foot modular homes, built on a former parking lot, include two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and living room.”
The city now has $100,000,000, enough to permanently and safely house hundreds of if not thousands of homeless families and individuals using this approach. And until such time as real housing is provided, the city has an obligation to bring vital infrastructure, water, sanitation services, etc. to the existing encampments if the lives and safety of homeless citizens of Sacramento mean anything to Mayor Steinberg.
Indeed, while the Master Plan’s call for a 700- person facility and other concentrations of many persons in one place, the lesson of COVID-19 is that congregant shelters are DANGEROUS as outbreaks in San Francisco and more recently Santa Rosa showed. As the Delta variant surges and scientists warn of future pandemics, Steinberg’s plan completely ignores this risk, one specifically referenced in guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Unlike others who purport to advocate for the homeless, the Homeless Union is not going to legitimize the “Master Plan” by suggesting ways to improve it; The Plan is a fraud, a giveaway to professional poverty profiteers and a self-dealing handout to City bureaucrats. We encourage those on the Sacramento City
Council to carefully consider the true objectives of the Administration. The “Master Plan” is the “spoonful of sugar” that will shortly “make the medicine go down.”
Except this spoon is filled with poison, a poison rooted in the worst aspects of American history: forced displacement and exclusion of other “disfavored” and stereotyped populations in the genocidal clearing of the Native Americans, the segregation in housing and all other arenas of African Americans and Latinos, the exclusion of the Chinese, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
What would “an obligation to accept shelter” look like in Sacramento? Threats of arrest, prosecution, physical displacement, civil conservatorship against those who are unwilling to have their families separated? Personal possessions taken, personal freedoms of association and speech curtailed, the unhoused robbed of their dignity and the truth behind homelessness falsified? The Homeless Union is not going to wait around to find out. We reject the false narrative behind “obligation to accept shelter,” the lie that homeless persons don’t want real housing don’t deserve real housing.
As the August 10 City Council Meeting nears, the Homeless Union may issue additional statements on the ill-considered, facially unconstitutional “Master Plan.” However, more important than what at we say, is what we do. Given the likelihood that the City Council will approve this plan, the Homeless Union is preparing resistance on all fronts, particularly amongst our members and the homeless community in general.
Crystal Sanchez is President, Sacramento Homeless Union
Anthony Prince, is Lead Organizer and Legal Counsel, California Homeless Union/Statewide Organizing Council