By Peter Charles Kraljev Red-Phoenix Correspondent, Sacramento
On July 17 2020, after a several month-long legal battle with the Sacramento Homeless Union lead by its president Crystal Rose Sanchez, the Superior Court of Sacramento passed a court ruling that prohibits sweeps of homeless encampments on public property during the pandemic. This was seen as win for both the rights and well-being of the unhoused in the city that gave them the right to rest, as well a way for those without shelter to follow shelter in place orders to reduce the spread of COVID.
Despite the hard work and perseverance of the Sacramento Homeless Union and their allied housing advocacy groups, sweeps have continued throughout the city. On January 5th 2021, notices to vacate were given to the members of a tent city set up on the overpass of Alhambra Blvd and W St. 12 people where dwelling there and because it was on public property, they thought they would be able to ride out the pandemic at this location and had been since the ruling in July. The notices to vacate said they had to be out by January 7th and they would be given a voucher to stay in a motel for a week but they could only take two backpacks worth of possessions, everything else was to be disposed of.
At 9am on January 7th the Sacramento Department of Public Works came out to the tent city at Alhambra and W with 9 city services workers, two garbage trucks, and two bulldozers with an escort of 4 police with a police van in tow (obviously to detain those who objected to having their only shelter torn down). Out of the 12 residents, only two were arrested, the others loaded up what they could into their two backpacks and accepted the vouchers and stood down as the bulldozers torn down their tents and city service workers tossed everything into the garbage trucks.
Things got a bit heated around 10:45am when a city services worker threw a knife they found in the rubble at reporters and Homeless Union representatives who were asking questions about what was going on here and the legality of it. Police shuffled the reporters back and served as buffer between them and the city services workers. The police and the Homeless Union representatives went back and forth on the legality of the issue and the court’s ruling, police said that because of the vouchers they gave to the homeless of the camp they could evict them as they had a place to go. These vouchers only covered a week’s stay in a motel so it is unclear what will happen to these homeless people after that week is up, particularly given that the city destroyed their shelters in the middle of winter and threw away all their stuff.
Homelessness had increased by 22% in California over the last decade mostly due to rising rents and stagnant wages and the current pandemic has only accelerated this crisis with the massive layoffs. As such tent city like this have become much more prevalent in the state and with California’s current COVID eviction protections expiring at the end of the month there are going to be even more of them popping up.
Despite the best efforts of housing advocacy groups to gain legal protections, the state, egged on by their capitalist backers, will still find legal loop holes to tear down these encampments and chase off their residents. We need real solutions to the state’s housing crises and the Democrats/Republicans, land-lords, and real-estate developers have no solution, and are in many ways part of the problem. Any concessions activists win from these groups are only achieved after the constant pestering and pressure form grass roots, working class political parties and advocacy groups. Its impotent we keep at it and don’t give up, parallel to our work to create a society in which homelessness is eliminated, or else we will find ourselves trying to fit our whole lives into two back packs.