Not counting families and young people, approximately 1,000 individuals are outside in the elements every night in Sacramento. That means 36 percent of the homeless population cannot find shelter due to the woeful lack of shelter beds in the city.
Five city codes criminalize standing, sitting and resting in public places; three criminalize camping and lodging in public places; and three criminalize begging and panhandling.
When homeless people are arrested and put in jail, things happen to exacerbate their homeless situation. Besides the inherent stress of being in jail, they often have the few but essential belongings they are forced to carry with them confiscated. They can permanently lose property, from cars (where they may have been sleeping/living,) and clothing, to tents, stoves or medication they need on a daily basis. They also face fines they cannot pay which put them further into debt.
The Sacramento City Council recently turned down a moratorium that homeless people and advocates had been asking for: to put a hold on its anti-camping ordinance until enough affordable housing units have been created in the region. They also asked for protection of homeless people’s property seized by law enforcement.
The Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness (SRCEH) Civil Rights Committee found inaccuracies in the City’s published justification for its decision to deny the moratorium. In their “Fact Checking the City’s Response to Homeless Protesters” (a protest in front of city hall has been ongoing for months), Bob Erlenbusch, head of SRCEH, said most of the city’s responses contained falsehoods or were, at best, misleading. One such was that Sacramento has “many” rentals in the open market that homeless people can secure. The current vacancy rate is 2 percent in the city. That is considered a “very tight market,” Erlenbusch says.
SRCEH further notes that in September of 2015, 50,000 people applied for a Housing Choice Voucher (formerly known as the federal Section 8 program). Only 8,000, or 16 percent, received vouchers.
In addition, Wind Youth Services of Sacramento reported that they had a waiting list of 100 young people for their emergency overnight shelter. While the non-profit Sacramento Steps Forward counted only 240 homeless youth in the city in 2015, Wind Youth Services saw 918 unduplicated young people at their drop-in center last year.
SRCEH also said 12,000 homeless students were identified in the Sacramento Unified School system in 2015.
The shortage of low-income housing in the city and region already makes it difficult for homeless individuals, couples, families and young people to find any type of housing. When they are jailed for being outside or committing a minor crime, they emerge with a criminal record. Then it is well nigh impossible for them to find a place to live. A criminal record or tickets for camping make it even harder to access the housing and other programs designed to help them.
In a complaint filed with the Department of Justice, SRCEH asks that the court conduct a full investigation into the “pattern and practice” of harassment of homeless citizens by law enforcement. This includes police, sheriff’s personnel, park rangers, light rail police and private security.
Erlenbusch says it is hoped that the City of Sacramento will come into compliance with the federal Department of Justice ruling that anti-camping ordinances constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” and violate the 8th Amendment of the Constitution.
Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer is going this month with a delegation of homeless advocates to Seattle to hear how that city created a homeless state of emergency while the city assesses the fundamental causes of homelessness such as “low income, funding cuts and institutional racism.”
Schenirer has already told fellow council members that he feels it is time to have an open conversation about the challenge and “to be open to ideas and suggestions that might be politically unpopular.”
For more information and to get involved visit http://www.srceh.org/
Featured image via MeganWilson.com