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"Protect" schools at what cost?

Thank you to SJPC's Community Outreach Coordinator, Sarah Rabanales, for all her hard work on this piece!

Sadly yet unsurprisingly, the Sac City Council has once again let down the unhoused community by restricting yet another area for people to exist in. On October 18th, the council passed an ordinance to amend, and add K-12 schools to the list of, ‘critical infrastructure’ in the City of Sacramento (item 07 on the agenda).

*updated critical infrastructure list ^^^ full meeting doc can be found here

A bit of context behind this amendment: in February of 2020 the City Council adopted the ‘Protection of Critical Infrastructure and Wildfire Risk Area Ordinance’. This is essentially a list of infrastructure in which encampments/service centers are not allowed within 500 ft in order to protect the infrastructure or because of the risk of wildfires (or so says the City).

Thus the ordinance not only restricts certain areas from being used as shelters, but also gives law enforcement more power to extract people from these locations based on ‘public safety’

The list of critical infrastructure includes, but is not limited to, hospitals, levees, government buildings, etc. By adding K-12 schools to this list, further restrictions and enforcement are being put upon people simply trying to survive.

The reality is that these restrictions will not begin to deal with or solve the issue of homelessness. Instead they will further stigmatize and displace unhoused people. By passing this ordinance unanimously, the City Council is not only furthering the unhoused crisis but also dedicating time and money to recycled (and frankly useless) solutions to homelessness instead of actually getting to the root of the problem.

Although Councilmember Valenzuela voted in favor of and supported this ordinance, she did bring up some crucial issues within this discussion. She brought up the fact that the solutions being sought out for this issue are not the only solutions possible. Valenzuela explained that community solutions include ideas such as the ‘Yellow Brick Road’. This community idea essentially creates one route at designated hours to be used solely for children traveling to school in cooperation with these encampments. Although this is not a replacement solution for resources or housing, it is a way to keep these service centers functional until resources and housing are provided. Sadly, this idea was quickly shut down by the City.

She also explained that she does not want this ordinance to be used as a way to shut down services that have not caused any harm to the communities around them, and uses the incident that occurred at Sutter Middle School as an example of what this ordinance should NOT be a solution to (more on this story here).

Ultimately what Valenzuela was getting to is that the solutions and ideas being presented, including Item 07, will not solve the larger problem and, in fact, solutions being brought to the council are being ignored and overlooked. Of course her concerns were met with pushback on behalf of Vice Mayor Ashby and Councilmembers Harris and Loloee. All three of them highlighted the fact that Item 07 simply put K-12 schools on the critical infrastructure list in order to protect children and that other stipulations to this motion should be separately discussed. Ashby stated that enforcing this ordinance will mean one less issue for children to face aside from returning to school from the pandemic, and the epidemic of gun violence.

Steinberg intervened and committed further agenda time to Valenzuela’s concerns and called for the motion to be soley in regard to adding K-12 schools to the critical infrastructure list. As mentioned before, the motion passed unanimously.

So what does this discussion really mean, especially to the community?

Listen, it's not that we don’t believe in or support keeping children safe. That is a harmful and false narrative that Councilmember Ashby WANTS people to buy into when discussing the unhoused crisis because it furthers her own agenda

By supporting this ordinance she tried to give the impression that she is combatting the issue of homelessness while prioritizing children within our community. The reality is that this ordinance is HARMFUL. It is a waste of time, funding and resources that could instead be put towards addressing the root of the issue - the lack of support and resources provided by the government. Instead of trying to reuse the old and tired "solutions" that have been funded for decades, the city council should look to the community to collaborate and find solutions that are truly supportive of the unhoused community, and not just a narrative or campaign tactic. Regardless of what anyone says about what's being funded and supported right now, the truth is apparent in our everyday lives - the decisions being put on the table are simply not working.

Thousands of unhoused people do not just appear overnight and are not just going to disappear because of increased restrictions - if anything moving folx from one community to another worsens the issue of mass homelessness.

Below are public comments from activists Niki Jones and Crystal Sanchez made at the meeting that represent the way people within the community ACTUALLY feel about the decisions being made.

With all this being said, it is easy to feel hopeless, but we must continue to show up and show out in support of those who cannot. Unhoused folx are looking to survive, we cannot make them the enemy. Instead, we must be advocates for their wellbeing as well as for the well-being of the community as a whole. The unhoused crisis affects everyone at all levels and we cannot expect out-of-touch councilmembers to understand the needs of the community.

We are seeing one extremely vulnerable community suffering at the hands of the government and the representatives that are being paid to protect them. Funding and resources should be going to creative problem solving and to prioritizing the needs and voices of the impacted.

We need to continue fighting for the survival of everyone in our community.

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