Tag Archives: Sacramento

Home on a Sailboat

It was 101 degrees at noon today according to the bank sign in Rio Vista, CA. And where is that California Delta breeze? Wind generators at a standstill. But that wasn’t all. Bob Cunningham’s sailboat home (in background) was dead in the water. Bob says he’ll stay put until the wind blows him back to the San Francisco Bay. He lives on his boat and has sailed up and down the U.S. and Mexican West Coast for years. He’s not alone. It’s estimated there are 30,000 sail boat homes out there, just off California, Oregon and Washington. Sailors finding home on the water.


Communal Commitment to End Hunger – Sacramento

Farm to Every Fork Dinner
To Relieve Food Insecurity

FarmmToForkIt’s one thing to get a good taste of the region at a local event (Sacramento’s Farm to Fork Festival, for example). It’s another to be offered an amazing regional meal with wine and entertainment at a dinner that benefits homeless and others with food insecurity. That’s Farm to Every Fork. An innovative coalition has put together an evening that will feature food from the best Sacramento regional restaurants and farms. For participants and supporters, it represents a chance to make a communal commitment to end hunger in the area.

  • The organizers are:
  • Homeward Street Journal
  • Slow Food Sacramento
  • Food Not Bombs
  • Alchemist Community Development Corporation
  • Fund for Urban Gardening
  • Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services
  • River City Food Bank
  • Loaves & Fishes
  • The Sacramento Natural Food Co-Op
  • Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee (SHOC)

Each $150 ticket for the Sept. 13 event will fund two dinners, one for the ticket holder and one for a neighbor who has experienced hunger and food insecurity.

Paula Lomazzi, head of SHOC, says the evening is designed so that “we can break bread together, share stories, and understand better the challenges facing our homeless and low income neighbors who are struggling with the cost of food, limitation and reduction in food stamp funding, and difficulties in access to emergency food programs.

Lomazzi says there are lots of opportunities to protect and strengthen food and nutrition programs locally and statewide. She said she sees new solutions employed every day in California communities. “We want to support the ordinary people growing gardens and working in so many other ways to end hunger.”

A few tickets are still left for this unique event, and sponsorships are welcomed as well. Visit sacshoc.org or call 916-862-8649.  The dinner event also will include opportunities for tabling, an auction of eccentric valuables, lots of networking, good music, and…did I mention…delicious fresh food?

Read more in Eric Holt-Gimenez’s post about the event

Farm to Every Fork Dinner
Saturday, Sept. 13, 5-8 p.m.
Venue: Trinity Cathedral
2520 Capitol Avenue; Sacramento

Panhandling Ordinance Deprives Many of Income

Panhandler earning money to go to next migrant worker job.
Panhandler earning money to go to next migrant worker job.

This is my upcoming article for Homeward the Sacramento Street Journal September 2014.

As anyone who is looking for a job in this economy knows, it’s rough out there. There is a largely misunderstood section of the population that has been put in the position of asking other people for money for food, shelter and transportation. Oh wait, that is a job.

But, if you are down on your luck and soliciting money in public places for your own welfare, it’s called panhandling. If Sacramento County has its way, that way of earning your money will be essentially illegal.

While there is a challenge in court, the county is poised to enforce an ordinance that creates large buffer zones between solicitors and potential donors at places where solicitors commonly ask for money, food or work. At first blush, the ordinance seems to address the “safety and welfare of the general public” by making it illegal to solicit in an aggressive or threatening manner. As well it should. Most panhandlers would agree that people should not be followed after saying no to a solicitation. Nor should they be accosted at ATMs, have obscenities hurled at them or feel physically intimidated.

But this is a different matter than peaceable panhandlers who non-aggressively hold signs up and appeal for personal donations. However, the ordinance contains a clause under exemptions stating “Nothing in this …shall be construed to prohibit soliciting for charitable purposes in compliance with the requirements set forth in…this Code.” Sacramento attorney Mark Merin says that distinction makes the ordinance unconstitutional. “This ordinance is vulnerable because it has the exemption for charitable organizations. This is a free speech issue.”

Merin has petitioned the court to issue a preliminary injunction to restrain enforcement of the newly adopted ordinance. The complaint says that “a number of principles have emerged from the case law, which compel the conclusion that Sacramento County’s anti-panhandling law is invalid on it face.”

For one, Merin’s document reads, “solicitation of donations in public forums is a form of non-commercial speech fully protected by the First Amendment.” And, “Individuals who seek donations for their own personal needs and survival are entitled to the same degree of constitutional protection as persons who solicit for other causes. ‘Panhandlers’ and persons who ‘beg’—categories singled out by the Ordinance—are not relegated to some lower rung of the First Amendment.”

Merin, a well-known Sacramento civil rights champion, says any restriction that is content-based has to meet with strict scrutiny. A struggling mother is just as entitled to ask you for alms as a save-the-whales organizer is entitled to ask you to sign a petition, or a Girl Scout is free to ask you to buy cookies. “If the ordinance is to be selectively enforced, then it is unconstitutional as applied,” he says. “You can regulate panhandling. You can prohibit all solicitations in a city or county, but that would mean all solicitors, including for charities.”

People who violate the ordinance more than two times within a six month period will be found guilty of a misdemeanor. Merin details how expensive for taxpayers the legal process will be if people are arrested for solicitation, even if each person is kept in custody just 30 days. Tallying only the cost of police, jailors, court personnel and judges, the figure mounts easily to thousands, he says.

Sgt. Lisa Bowman, media relations representative for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department says they are aware of the litigation. She says the county has agreed to a 60-day period of non-enforcement so the police can “prepare people. Officers will give warnings, still just verbal advisements, until the period is up in September.”

Bowman said the department has had ongoing complaints about aggressive solicitation. “Also about people who stand in traffic. Those are a couple of major concerns.”

But the plaintiffs in Merin’s complaint include homeless people who rely on soliciting donations for their basic needs in the areas of the county affected by the ordinance. The Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee also is a plaintiff because some members of the homeless advocates’ organization distribute their newspaper in exchange for donations for their own needs. All plaintiffs “will face the choice of risking criminal penalties or choosing to give up their First Amendment right to seek donations free from unconstitutional restrictions,” reads the complaint.

Merin not only wants to see the ordinance overturned, he would like to see attitudinal changes about solicitation so that people can be given an opportunity to take care of themselves. “A lot of them are out at least five hours a day in the same place. They make minimum wage if they are fortunate. This is not something they want to have to do. It is degrading for them.”

For Merin, the “much bigger issue is why we have panhandling,” why so many people are dependent on it for their livelihood and “put in the position of imposing on others. We don’t have a society that honors helping those who are less fortunate,” he says. “Programs for public welfare and public housing have been cut out, along with job training programs. Rich people don’t want to have to pay taxes. There is insatiable greed.”

The safety net is shredded, he says, and we are not a society that “gives things out. If you are poor, it’s your own fault. You are told to take responsibility for yourself. Tell a mother with three children and no place to go to take financial responsibility.”

Old people are especially vulnerable, he says. “I walk around my neighborhood and see at least 20 people sleeping in doorways who are elderly or infirm.”

Angie at Arden Fair shopping center, Sacramento.
Angie at Arden Fair shopping center, Sacramento.

One of these could easily be Angie, a 63-year-old panhandler who spends two or three hours a day at the exit from a Sacramento shopping center. She still lives in a house her father built near the shopping center. The home is no longer hers but she is allowed to sleep on a couch. Her husband bought a motor home two weeks before he died. It is no longer hers and she lost all her possessions.

She has no family left. Her sister, mother and brother died within two weeks of each other. “I have all the death certificates and took care of the funerals,” she says. “I have nobody to ask for help. I don’t like to ask for help out here but I have a hard time getting by every day.”

Angie is slight and in ill health but keeps smiling at the people lined up to leave the mall. She can’t spend too much time out on the pavement in the 95-degree heat because she has high blood pressure and has had a “slight stroke. I’m on my last leg.”

Another panhandler whom Angie identifies as a deaf man peddles up on his bicycle and hands her a fountain soda. He hangs around for a while, trying to see if she is OK.

“I mostly stay to myself,” she says. “There are others who come out here and get drunk and violent. I take them aside.” She tries to get across to them what harm they are doing other people who must make their living soliciting. “I cry and tell them about my family and why I am doing this.”

She says the police know her and don’t bother her. Except one who hassles her and gives her tickets. “If she would just talk to me, she might not be so bitter,” Angie says. She has done community service to work off her tickets, “picking up cigarette butts for 40 hours.”

In general, she says people who drive by are not mean spirited, although one person sprayed her with pepper spray. “But a lot of good people have been in the same boat and can relate.  They give me food and stuff. If it weren’t for the ones giving me a couple of dollars, I wouldn’t be here at all.”

A man who does not give his name, puts down his “Just Hungry, Thank you, God Bless” sign and sits in the grass near a Howe Street intersection. He panhandles to support himself and his wife who was “deemed incompetent” in 2008. He received guardianship and lives with his mother-in-law for now.

He cannot understand how it makes sense to arrest people for what he refers to as “signing.”

“It will clutter up the judicial system severely. I would rather see a felon behind bars than someone who has been signing.”

hungry-signSometimes people pick him up to do work for them. He is grateful but still is looking for a full-time job. It’s a circular problem because looking for a job cuts down on the time he must spend asking for money and then he is short of food. He dreams of buying a farm near Elk Grove where he could be self-sufficient.

Both his parents died not too long ago. He served in the Army, which he says did him a lot of good. “I spent a lot of time scrubbing pots and pans, but those years straightened my butt up.”

When asked what he would do if he could no longer solicit money, he starts to cry softly about the hardship on his wife. “I would be up shit creek,” he says. “Really bad. We wouldn’t be eating.”

A young man near a McDonald’s in the county holds a sign that is humorous if self-deprecating: “Dirty, Broke and Ugly.” Occasionally he flips to the other side: “Addicted to Food.” Although he is from Sacramento, right now he is trying to just pass through on his way to what he hopes is another migrant job. He has come from Northern California most recently and plans to check out jobs near Davis.

He stayed with his sister last night but doesn’t know where he will be tonight. Probably outside. He wants to get to the day shelter in Davis where he will be will be able to shower and do laundry.

He agrees with attorney Merin that not being able to sign is a freedom of speech issue and hopes the county rescinds its ordinance. People out here aren’t ugly to him, he says. “It’s the bureaucrats that are ugly.”

He has traveled 32 states doing migrant jobs. “But this is the toughest job I’ve ever had.”










Farm to Every Fork

FarmmToForkAs of a few days ago, I am a member of the program committee for a benefit event called Farm to Every Fork in Sacramento Sept. 13. This will be a buy-one-feed-one dinner to raise money for homeless and food-scarce services in that city. Sponsors are Slow Food Sacramento (who will supply the fantastic feast), Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee and Homeward newspaper, River City Food Bank, Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, Sacramento Food Not Bombs and the Fund for Urban Gardening (homeless people farming in donated city lots).

My committee is tasked with asking musicians and other entertainers who have a soft spot for helping homeless people to come and play or entertain during the evening. (Poor musicians. How many times a year do they get asked to give their talents for free? But still……) Please contact me if you know musicians or entertainers would like to join in the fun.

 Buy tickets for the Food To Every Fork Event on Eventbrite

Slow Food Sacramento Food to Every Fork


The Story of Locke, CA

Homeward_May_June2014This article on the history and impact of the Chinese immigrants on the Sacramento River Delta community of Locke,CA was originally published in the May/June edition of the Homeward Street Journal,  a voice for the Sacramento Homeless Community since 1997.  Download the full edition of Homeward here:  Homeward_May-June_2014

While Chinese Exploitation Appalling, Locke’s Immigrants Fared Better

The list of immigrant groups who have been discriminated against in the U.S. is long, and the conditions people from other countries have endured have been dismal. The Chinese who came to the United States in the late 1900s and early 20th Century endured their own series of setbacks and injustices. The story of the Sacramento River Delta town of Locke is a brighter spot in the Chinese immigrant story, although many of these workers suffered the effects of the same racial biases and ill treatment as their countrymen. Generally speaking, the town which these Chinese founded themselves against overwhelming odds, and which they came to pronounce Lock-ee (“happy living” in their dialect) is a more upbeat tale. In the mid-1800s, Chinese men came to the “Gold Mountain,” as they called America, during the California Gold Rush. At first they were accepted because they proved to be diligent workers and made themselves useful in every type of labor, from mining to farm work. The Transcontinental Railroad linking East with West would never have been accomplished in a timely fashion had it not been for Chinese men’s dogged work in constructing the railway. They toiled for low wages and experienced terrible working conditions. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 preventing any more Chinese from immigrating to America. It was the first time the United States had pinpointed a specific group of people to deny immigration.

Wong Lee with winter melons from his garden in the back of Locke, CA, in the Sacramento River Delta. Wong was a long-time orchard worker and handyman for the Leary Ranch outside Walnut Grove, CA, in the Delta. He was born in China in 1900 and emigrated to America when he was 21 under his workman father’s sponsorship. He lived in labor camps. He saved enough money to go back to China in 1935 and marry and again in 1947 to purchase land. He lost those investments in the Chinese revolution in 1949. It was not until 1968 that he was able to send for his wife and two children, after 33 years of marriage. Photo courtesy James Motlow from the book Bitter Melon: Inside America’s Last Rural Chinese Town.
Wong Lee with winter melons from his garden in the back of Locke, CA, in the Sacramento River Delta. Wong was a long-time orchard worker and handyman for the Leary Ranch outside Walnut Grove, CA, in the Delta. He was born in China in 1900 and emigrated to America when he was 21 under his workman father’s sponsorship. He lived in labor camps. He saved enough money to go back to China in 1935 and marry and again in 1947 to purchase land. He lost those investments in the Chinese revolution in 1949. It was not until 1968 that he was able to send for his wife and two children, after 33 years of marriage. Photo courtesy James Motlow from the book Bitter Melon: Inside America’s Last Rural Chinese Town.

But Chinese workers who came to the Delta were invaluable in reclaiming what was marsh and swamplands and in making it into the profitable farming area it is today. In the last part of the 19th Century, California was given free land from what is now Rio Vista in the south of the Delta to Freeport in the north. The state “sold” it to farmers for minimum down payments with the stipulation that if they reclaimed the land they would not need to repay the loans. Developed land, of course, meant greater tax revenues in the state coffers. The crop most prevalent in California at the time was grain. Farmers wanted to grow and make money from more lucrative fruit and vegetable crops like pears, tomatoes and asparagus. A fertile reclaimed delta area would be ideal. Developers had to build levees. For this they mostly hired Chinese workers who had, opportunely enough, come from the Pearl River Delta area in Guangdong Province where the land had the same features as the Sacramento Delta. These men had the skills to both the build levees and farm the reclaimed land. Due to widespread anti-Chinese laws, they were not able to earn more than about $1 a day. Although they were pushed to work for less, the Chinese seemed to have agreed upon $1 as their minimum. It was double or triple what they might have earned in China, but it was constant hard labor and a solitary life. The Chinese men sent most of their wages back to their families whom they didn’t even know if they would see again. The family structure in China was of great importance and separation from their wives, children and other relatives was a great cause for dismay. Foregoing family life made them feel even more alienated from their culture. In addition to contributing the sweat of their brows, the Chinese in the Delta invented what was called a tule shoe for the horses used in building the levees. This was an oversized horseshoe, not unlike a snowshoe for humans, which disperses the weight. They wired the tule shoes to the horses’ hooves for packing down and leveling the dirt. They employed this method in reclaiming 250,000 acres of land. The Chinese then stayed on as farm laborers or tenant farmers throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, toiling in the orchards, fields and packinghouses. Chinatowns cropped up in various Delta towns. The town of Locke stands out in that it was established by the Chinese themselves, the only Chinese immigrant-built town in the United States that still stands. Speculators and farmers bought the marshland for $1-4 an acre, reclaimed it for $6-12 an acre and resold it for $20-100 an acre. Or they rented it to Chinese farmers for $8 to $10 an acre. Under the California Alien Land Law of 1913, “aliens ineligible for citizenship” prohibited Asians (who could not become citizens) from purchasing land and made land leases of fewer than three years illegal. While this had the effect of driving most of the Chinese who had made up almost 90 percent of the agricultural workforce out of California’s rural areas, the Sacramento Delta Chinese and the founders of Locke were an exception. In 1912, Bing Lee had leased land from Delta farm owner George Locke and built seven buildings in his pear orchard north of the town of Walnut Grove. Two years before, the railroad had built a spur, which led to the pear packing shed. Lee built six stores and a gambling hall. The town on the Sacramento River, originally known as Lockeport, grew to include boarding houses for the workers, a church, church school, post office, theater, restaurant, saloons, grocery stores, hardware, herb store, fish market, dry goods store, dentist, cigar stand, shoe repair, pool room and bakery. By 1915, the town boasted about 400 year-round residents, which swelled to about 1,200 at harvest time. In his book One Day, One Dollar Peter C.Y. Leung explains that “Locke people were the last wave of immigrants from China to California during the period of Oriental restriction and exclusion.” Because they had become the vital backbone to the region’s economy, they skirted some of the discrimination other Chinese in America endured. But they had worked hard for that “privilege.” As Leung recounts, they had built the hundreds of miles of levees that now still hold back 1,500 miles of inland waterways. The reclamation had required working in waist-deep water at a time when malaria was still endemic, cutting drainage ditches and building floodgates and levees. These men laid the foundation for the present Delta agribusiness as well as seeing it through planting, maintenance, harvests and preservation of crops. Most Locke permanent residents worked in the orchards. Leong says that in the winter months they wove baskets for the harvest, repaired ladders, milked cows and performed general orchard maintenance, keeping them busy 11-12 hours a day. Leung quotes one man’s diary as recording 3,414 hours’ work in one year. During the season, bilingual Chinese foremen oversaw crews to prune and cut blight from the trees and pick weeks. Later they harvested the fruit and worked in the packing sheds. In addition, during irrigation periods, the men stayed from dawn to dusk watching over the water flow. In the ‘20s, the manual labor was done by field hands and hauling by horses. It wasn’t until the 1930s and 1940s that trucks finally were used in the fields.

In his 70s in 1976, Bing Fei Chow sits in his boardinghouse room in Locke, CA, in the Sacramento River Delta. Chow joined his older brother and uncle in the Delta in 1921 and worked 50 years as a farm laborer. He was part of what was referred to as “the bachelor society,” one of the Chinese immigrants who never saved enough money to marry. He says in the book Bitter Melon: “I wouldn’t say I’ve been happy here, because I had to leave friends and family in China. But I wasn’t unhappy. I don’t regret it either.” Photo courtesy of James Motlow

Throughout the Delta’s history there have been other immigrants workers, principally Japanese, Filipino and Mexican. Chinese workers were at a height during the Depression. Wages rose to $1.50 a day after the Depression. Wages rose after the U.S. entered World War II but were still modest. Out of perhaps $3,000 a year, Chinese men had to pay for board, clothing, furniture, taxes and to send money back to their families in China. Sometimes money saved was used to return for a visit to China or a dowry and wedding. Some Chinese in the Delta invested in tenant farming partnerships with other Chinese. When China became an ally in World War II, the U.S. repealed the exclusion acts in the Magnuson Act of 1943. This seemed a mere gesture however, since it set up a quota of 105 immigrants from China a year. The Immigrant Act of 1965 finally made it possible for Chinese to immigrate to this country and reunite with their families. Today there is a handful of Chinese American families farming in the Sacramento Delta, none of them living in Locke. Some Chinese American farmers did prevail, like Lincoln Chan, a Delta farmer who became known as the “pear king of California,” and farmed thousands of acres of sugar beets, safflower, corn, wheat and tomatoes. The Chinese immigrants who eventually established families in the area encouraged their children to obtain an education and leave the Delta for more promising work and lives. By 1980, the Chinese population of Locke had dwindled to about 90 Chinese Americans. Locke residents now include a few descendants, none of them engaged in farming. However, reminders of the retired Chinese inhabitants of the 1960s-1990s remain in the form of gardens where they grew Chinese vegetables for their own use. Most of the original buildings in the two-block core of the town are standing. The Locke Foundation is preserving the history of these workers. Photos and information about them is available at the Locke Boarding House Museum, a California Department of Parks and Recreation property.

Photos from a Bay Area family’s visit to Locke can be found in this blog post. 

The following sources were used for this article: Lawrence Tom, Brian Tom and the Chinese American Museum of Northern California; One Day, One Dollar: The Chinese Experience in the Sacramento River Delta, California by Peter C.Y. Leung; The Chinese-American Experience: An Introduction  by William Wei; and Bitter Melon by Jeff Gillenkirk and James Motlow Sally Ooms is a journalist and the author of the book Finding Home: How Americans Prevail. She was a resident of Locke during the 1970s and did her undergraduate thesis on the town for the University of San Francisco.

Sacramento County Weakens Affordable Housing Policy

Sharing an article that I wrote for Homeward Street Journal in April 2014.


Give people an opportunity to stabilize their lives and they will do it. That is what Darryl Rutherford, head of Sacramento Housing Alliance (SHA), has experienced.

He said Sacramento County’s Affordable Housing Ordinance, a forward-thinking inclusionary ordinance designed to ensure homes were built for low income people within future developments, was a way to address the poverty that segregates people and pushes them into homelessness. But the Sacramento

County Board of Supervisors voted Feb. 10 to eliminate its enlightened ordinance, passed in 2004. The now-defunct ordinance required developers to build 15 percent of units in master planned communities as housing for low-, very-low and extremely-low income people.

Read the full article in the PDF copy of Homeward 

Elected! Healthcare for the Homeless Board of Directors

I was elected to the Healthcare for the Homeless board of directors last week. It is a Sacramento County board, under the board of supervisors, that is responsible for allocating money for the program and making policy decisions.

sac-banner-picHCH collaborates with nonprofit health services and resource programs to provide clinic sites which offer acute care, chronic disease management, assessment and treatment of illnesses, mental health and substance abuse services, gynecology, Hepatitis C assessment and treatment and emergency dental services. It also coordinates a well child clinic through the University of California-Davis with third-year pediatric residents and conducts TB screening and testing at clinics and shelters in the county.

I am honored to be a member of this board of health professionals, non-profit organizers and representatives from the homeless community. I hope to add my writing skills to whatever the tasks are at hand, be it pamphlet updates or grant writing.