Sacramento, CA (TFC)– As of Monday January 25th, activists and homeless in Sacramento are on their 49th day of occupying the grounds of Sacramento City Hall. The occupation is in protest to and to seek remedy from a city wide anti-camping law affecting the homeless in that city. The ordinance in debate is City Code 12.52.010 to 12.52.080. Specifically 12.52.030 which states “It is unlawful and a public nuisance for any person to camp, occupy camp facilities, or use camp paraphernalia in the following areas: A: Any public property or B: any private property.” The other city codes in this chapter deal with bans on sleeping in vehicles, huts, and temporary shelters. Other violations include use of bedrolls, tarps, sleeping bags, cooking facilities and similar equipment. In a separate code Sac. City Code 12.52.040 the ordinance addresses the storage of personal property on private or public spaces. Basically we are dealing with criminalizing the act of being homeless.
Throughout the 49 day occupation, the numbers of occupiers have fluctuated between 10 and 30 on any given night. Comprised of homeless individuals, activists, community organizations, and just individuals who chose to come out and give support. Some of the groups involved in this act of civil disobedience include: Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, Community Dinner Project, Sacramento BLM, and Anonymous OpRight2Rest. These groups have come together in hopes of accomplishing a few things. They would like a repeal of the anti-camping ban to prevent any more arrests and property confiscation. In 2014 the police issued 1,030 citations for illegal camping. The protesters are claiming the arrests, citations, and confiscations of belonging due to simply the act of sleeping in public are a direct violation of the 8th amendment. As of today there have been 16 arrests so far, citations issued, and property confiscated at the occupation site. The last arrest was an individual who was not sitting at a 90 degree angle. This coincides with city laws across the US which have criminalized sitting or lying down in public areas.
Since the occupation, the protesters have been in talks with the city council. The results of their efforts have produced three things. One being a new homeless task force created by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. Led by council members Jay Scheniver, Steeve Hansen, and Jeff Harris. It has not yet been clarified what the task force is supposed to do. However, this leads to another one of the protesters demands which is to include members of the homeless community to the task force. The second thing the occupation has produced is revisiting a past idea of offering a “safe ground” within the city limits. A city approved “safe ground” would be an outdoor encampment with on-site services designed to provide a transitional springboard for the homeless into permanent housing. Unlike tent cities currently set up around the country, these would be 100 shed like structures managed by non-profits. The third temporary solution the city approved as of January 19th was 6 housing units and a one year contract with a non-profit to provide services to the homeless and disabled.
One of the groups involved in the protest advocate for the homeless in other ways. Since December of last year the Community Dinner Project has volunteered to feed the homeless in front of City Hall every week. They serve between 75-130 needy people at these events. Like many cities around the US feeding the homeless has also been deemed a criminal act or is only allowed to occur by getting a city permit to do so. A permit in Sacramento for instance costs $300. This makes it extremely difficult for an average citizen or small grassroots organization attempting to provide help to the people who desperately need it. We can all remember the case in Fort Lauderdale of 90 year old World War 2 veteran Arnold Abbot who was cited and arrested several times for feeding the homeless in his area.
Clearly cities do not have the proper funding to take care of the housing and feeding needs of those in their cities. This is where the community steps in to try and make up for the lack of resources. The question should be asked if the resources the cities currently have are being utilized properly. In Sacramento 50% of their 13.6 million dollar budget goes to “reducing impact on communities”, 29% goes toward “solutions” and 19% on “homeless services”. As with every other government led initiative, wasteful spending and no accountability may be to blame for these funds not producing the results they should. Yolo County California used $150, 000 on a homeless project called Bridge to Housing. With the use of an Inn, the program sheltered 65 homeless individuals for 109 days. 65% of those that went through the program are gainfully employed and are in permanent housing. This program may not have a 100% success rate but clearly they have a plan that is producing positive results. In Sacramento the homeless population is currently around 2,700. As of now the cities 2,600 permanent housing units are all filled. So what do you do with those who have nowhere to go? What do we as a community do for those who need food and medical attention? The government will not help them so it is our duty to pick up the slack. We need to think about what basic human rights are. Can we criminalize people for seeking food, water, and shelter? The situation in Sacramento, as well as cities throughout the US, has been an ongoing struggle of law vs morals. In August of 2015 The Department of Justice issued a statement concerning a federal case over a camping ordinance in Boise Idaho where 7 individuals were suing the state over their conviction for the crime of camping. The DOJ states these laws violate the 8th amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment making them unconstitutional. Going on to say that, “sleeping is a life-sustaining activity, it must occur at some time in some place.” If being deprived of sleep is a direct result of these camping bans, it seems as though the states are advocating for torture of its citizens. Sleep deprivation has numerous harmful side effects. This effect of the no resting ordinances are counterproductive to solving our homeless problems, empowering them, preparing them for work opportunities, and keeping them healthy enough to work or sustain life for themselves.
The attack on our freedoms and liberties is something that people from every city across this country is facing. There are so many laws it is impossible for the average human to know them all. We are now faced with a choice to care for those in need and face criminal charges or watch people suffer. I think it is clear there is something very wrong with the system. We are left to choose whether to follow a moral code or a legal code. Do we side with laws and ordinances that harm us or those around us? Do we allow our tax dollars to fill unaccountable bank accounts for the state to use without question? Do we have the right to our basic human needs of water, food, and shelter? The people standing up for the homeless in Sacramento are not alone. Many across this country have chosen the side of being “criminals” if it means taking care of our less fortunate. It is our choice to spend our time and money however we choose if it does not negatively affect anyone’s person or property. If I choose to give a homeless person a dollar or a burger there is no official or code enforcer capable of stopping me. Around 500,000 Americans are homeless. These numbers include veterans, mothers with children, mentally ill people and the physically handicapped. Are we a country that would rather see these people suffer and fail in order to obey what some consider unjust laws? I think the resounding answer is no. While cities and advocates work toward solving our homeless problems, we as citizens should be solving our “law” problems. Our statue of liberty requests…”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Does this still ring true?