Sacramento City Council Unanimously Votes to Ban Homeless Camps Near Schools

 

By: Shuxuan Zhong

SACRAMENTO, CA––The Sacramento City Council unanimously voted on October 18, 2022, to pass a bill banning homeless peoples from camping or using camp paraphernalia within 500 feet of any schools, or at locations such as childcare centers, colleges, hospitals, and levees. However, this proposal was strongly opposed by Sacramento homeless advocates when it was proposed because, for the most part, there have been no school disturbances. 

 

In late September 2022, a man who appeared homeless was arrested for yelling and making obscene gestures at students on the way to Sutter Middle School. According to KCRA, Sutter Middle School administrators responded that the man was mentally disturbed or intoxicated, causing him to make sexual gestures to students who were walking outside the school. Sacramento police investigated the incident and arrested the man. Police then sent a message about the incident to inform families at Sutter Middle School. 

 

Sacramento Commissioner Angelique Ashby called for changes to city ordinances a week after this incident. Ashby claims Sacramento is prioritizing and ensuring the safety of students: “It’s not about a person; it’s not about a school website; it’s not about an event,” Ashby states. “It’s about the safety of children at school, and it’s about schools being a priority for the city.” The proposal got some support from parents. “There is no safe way to get to school,” said Crowe, who has a daughter at Sutter High.

 

Although Congresswoman Katie Valenzuela voted in favor of the change at the October meeting, she questioned the effectiveness of the change, saying, “People in crisis really don’t tend to adhere to invisible boundaries.” She also commented on the incident of the homeless man harassing students. Because the man was not camping near the school, “He won’t be affected by the 500-foot buffer,” Valenzuela said. 

 

During the meeting, Valenzuela asked if the ordinance could provide an exception for sites that are successfully managed within 500 feet of schools because those sites have not caused problems. “The camp is not permitted. It is not run by anybody, but it’s also not had any issues,” she said. “So, it hasn’t come up on our radar in terms of like, ‘Hey, we need to shut this down,’ because a couple of dozen folks have been living there quite successfully now for almost two years.”

 

A resident called in to the meeting and said the ordinance represented a “false dichotomy” between students and the homeless. Many homeless children attend school in Sacramento. Al Goldberg, communications manager for the Sacramento Unified School District, said the district has identified 364 homeless students as of Oct. 5 of the current school year.            

 

Advocates for homeless residents also shared their views on the proposition. They agree that student safety is a top priority. However, they argue that safe routes to schools can be devised without criminalizing the homeless: “In the same way that young children deserve safe walking paths to and from school, unhoused people are deserving of safe spaces to sleep,” Shannon Dominguez-Stevens, who runs the Mary House shelter for women and children at Loaves & Fishes, wrote in an email.

        

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