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Criminalizing the sidewalk

Thank you so much to Sarah Rabanales, our Sac State intern, for this detailed write-up! Read more about Sarah by clicking here.

Once again, the City Council and the Law and Legislation Committee has failed the unhoused community.

On June 21st, the Law and Legislation Committee came together to discuss:

Item 06 - Ordinance Amending Chapter 12.24 of the Sacramento City Code Relating to Sidewalk Obstructions and Pedestrian Interference (agenda doc linked here).

This Committee meeting determined whether Item 06 would be passed through to the full City Council for further discussion and vote (spoiler alert, it does). Passing this ordinance would make the penalty for obstructing doorways and sidewalks go from an infraction to a misdemeanor. This misdemeanor would not only add to your criminal record, but it would also impose a $250-$2500 dollar fine. This ordinance would also require the Department of Health Services (DHS) to respond to these situations rather than the Sacramento Police Department.

This item discussion was brought up by Councilman Harris after he supposedly received multiple emails from his constituents regarding sidewalk safety.

Because of these inconvenient emails, Harris decided that an amendment to this ordinance would be the best way to deal with this be clear, his idea of solving the issue of homelessness is by increasing their chances of incurring a criminal record, and by imposing fines on people with no income and no housing.

He explains this issue as:

people living in the street who have basically become entitled and feel they are above the law

So...just let that sink in for a minute. That's what he actually said, presumably because that's what he ACTUALLY thinks.

His reasoning completely misses the fact that these people are fully unhoused, and don’t HAVE the resources to be "functioning law abiding citizens" (not that this should be a goal anyway, because what does that even mean?).

If anything, most unhoused people are just looking to survive the day, and Harris somehow thinks that receiving a misdemeanor will modify their behavior (survival behavior, btw). This is a huge problem for unhoused people because many permanent shelters and no-income housing do not allow or restrict those with criminal records.

Sadly, many of the public comments made strongly supported this Item.

Many of these comments came from business owners in the Downtown/Midtown area, folx who have the privilege of running businesses in this area. Although it is understandable that many different people and populations deal with issues because of the housing crisis, criminalizing homeless people is NOT the solution.

The quotes below, taken from the Sac Anti Police Terror Project's toolkit (linked here) created for this meeting, sums it up in a good way:

Under current city code, sidewalks and entrances are already protected and require unhoused people to shift their belongings to allow free passage. Adding the threat of criminal punishment as a misdemeanor will not only fail to deter camping in these areas, but it will worsen the homelessness crisis by exacerbating unhoused people’s economic instability and making it harder to qualify for available housing.
Where are the city and county services that will help folks blocking our sidewalks and entrances? How is putting them in deeper debt or an overcrowded jail cell doing anything to address homelessness?
Being homeless is not a crime, but this ordinance will further criminalize the unhoused population – who are disproportionately comprised of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color – and expose them to violence from its enforcement.

We should be able to look to the Council and the Law and Leg Committee to better figure out services and assistance for unhoused folx. It is not enough to try to hide them away from public view and it is certainly not okay to criminalize them for literally not having a home to go to.

Even with public comments that did strongly recommend a better solution, the Committee still voted to pass the Item to the full Council for further discussion.

We need to urge our leaders to make decisions based on prevention, and permanent housing. Criminalization will not stop the issues of housing or homelessness, instead it will punish those without homes or resources.

Let's stay on top of this item, hopefully it won't make it through the full Council. Keep an eye out for updates!

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