The housing crisis - silence is not an option

Thank you so much to the author of this piece, Crystal Sanchez, of the Sacramento Homeless Union (website linked here). Photos in this piece were provided by Crystal.

Sacramento we are in a crisis.

Here are some basic facts:

  • Currently over 11,000 people are living on the streets of a Sacramento. This number is relatively low as not everybody is counted. A Point-In-Time count has just been completed, and the results should be coming soon.

  • In 2020,11,222 people reached out for services to the Sacramento Steps Forward's Continuum of Care.

  • Sacramento currently lacks 63,000+ units of affordable housing per the HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) guidelines.

  • According to the Sacramento Bee (article linked here), 60,000 people can no longer afford to live here.

  • 30,000 people applied for Sacramento Emergency Rental Assistance through the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency during COVID. Only a little over 11,000 people were helped before funding ran out. All while thousands of people were and are being evicted.

Communities destroyed by COVID

As a deadly global pandemic spread through our community, people lost their small businesses and their jobs. This is not a new crisis. The division between the haves and have-nots has become a very clear line. It shows up in everything from policy and funding, to lack of access to basic needs. Vital life saving necessities are not being provided, and low-income neighborhoods, such as Del Paso Heights and South Sacramento, have been ignored. Those who were in poverty were denied access to their most vital needs. Our BIPOC community members were the most impacted. Those who were unhoused lost access to everything.

How does an unhoused child go to school when we are offered free Wi-Fi but no place to plug in your School supplied laptop?

Why use force? now both local and State policies and legislation are being directed towards forcing unhoused folx into services. The question is where are the services? Why do we continue to put the cart before the horse in these carrot and stick models. We will NEVER agree that enforcement is the answer because being unhoused and poor is NOT A CRIME.

What we CAN agree on is that the impacts of homelessness are affecting the community as a whole. Every block in Sacramento has unhoused folx present. From the business perspective, folx are angry and frustrated as people fill the sidewalks in front of local businesses. Residents are angry because streets and cul-de-sacs are lined with people and tents. I got the following message from a local resident who stated the following:

"I am messaging you to find resources for an encampment at the end of my street. We bought our dream home and never expected unhoused people to end up living at the end of our street. We just want what's best for all involved." Unhoused people reach out to the Sacramento Homeless Union daily, seeking services. For us at the Union, the perspective of folx involved with the unhoused community is central to our work. We all have the right to feel safe and secure. Our city is faltering, and in rapid decline, because of the State-created and policy-driven failures to adequately address our community's broken safety net and housing and homeless crisis.

What people don't understand, is that being homeless in and of itself creates other issues.

Imagine losing everything and having to find a tent in order to live on the streets with your children. Not everybody has support, and with our social services system being so broken, government support doesn't really exist either.

What's being said?

The narrative being pushed is that unhoused individuals choose to be outside and they have chosen this lifestyle. As somebody who receives daily phone calls seeking assistance, and who , like other organizations, feels completely helpless because the system is so broken that we can't even get people inside who are in dangerous emergency situations, I state that this is a false narrative. We always challenge folx to try to get services, for but for some it is nearly impossible. The system is so siloed and the City and the County often refuse to work together, often placing the blame for system failures on each other.

How did we get here? We must look at history, and look at the systems of oppression that have been built upon over time.

Here's a brief history lesson, pre-Civil War 1800s to 1860:

People experiencing homelessness were comprised of folx displaced by wars, folx seeking immigrant settlements, or folx who had been expelled from colonial towns. In this era of rapid industrialization a shift towards wage labor (as opposed to practicing trades) occurred, which resulted in less stable employment because workers were easy to replace. Young men followed railroad jobs West or migrated to the city for factory jobs, living wherever they could find shelter.

Post-Civil War 1860 to 1930: