There are cities throughout the United States moving displaced citizens onto public land typically in tents calling these locations “sanctioned encampments.” It is the position of the National Coalition for the Homeless that housing is a human right which is defined as a safe, affordable, accessible place to call a home. The issue is that by identifying a “sanctioned encampment” cities by default are declaring that there are “unsanctioned” encampments. NCH does not believe that people who are experiencing a period of homelessness should become involved with law enforcement while trying to survive.
It should go without saying, but in the current divided society with words being distorted to become propaganda for those who want to make it illegal to be without housing, we must say that a tent is not a permanent solution to homelessness. Secure, safe, accessible and affordable housing should be available to every family or single individual who requests a place to live.
In a free society, a person should be able to congregate with others and peacefully assemble in groups of their choosing not forced to live where the municipal government decides with neighbors of their choosing.
No one should be forced by any authority or coerced to choose between a place with large numbers packed together or face criminalization for being homeless and living without shelter. Whether this is forcing someone into a congregate living facility that strips a person of their dignity or sending them to a government sanctioned site to pitch a tent, people living in the United States have always cherished the free will to not be told what neighborhood or municipality to reside in by government or government funded organizations.
Persons who refuse forced entry into any facility must not be categorized as “service resistant” and thereby face incarceration or exclusion from services. They should receive trauma informed care by trained professionals and be met with services they request not services forced on them.
In the current environment in which municipal governments have largely given up on affordable housing solutions to homelessness and instead resorted to using law enforcement as the primary point of contact for those without housing, we see a broader trend in which the mere offer of any kind of assistance or social service is enough for local governments and law enforcement to justify penalty, arrest or a threat to withdraw a person’s liberty for those who reject the help. We believe that sanctioned encampments will be used as permanent placements for local jurisdictions to avoid providing safe, affordable, accessible and permanent housing.
Sanctioned encampments are an inexpensive alternative to building housing or shelters that serve the needs of those individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness.
Local governments should not act as nannies for adults and force them to a segregated section of town to live under a set of rules developed by strangers under threat of arrest if the taxpayer strays from the sanctioned encampment.
On May 1, 2021 a political action committee convinced voters to pass an ordinance forcing the City of Austin to ticket people who violate the ‘no camping ordinance’ within the city limits. This was contrary to guidelines by the Center for Disease Control which recommended that communities leave people alone to shelter in place until the pandemic is passed, or take advantage of the FEMA and other recovery programs to pay for hotel rooms for the population. NCH has documented 40 of the 100 largest cities has also undertaken sweeps over the last year contrary to CDC guidelines. The City began warning people to leave their tents in June and then began ticketing people in July.
Proposition B was passed in a special election with only 20% of the voters actually bothering to show up. The dubiously named “Save Austin Now” PAC spent $1.9 million to convince Austin voters to be afraid of people who are unhoused. The legislation also demanded a crackdown on panhandling, despite sweeping judicial protection of the right panhandle. So, a deeply flawed law which violates the constitution and basic humanity for those struggling during a pandemic passed by voters and implemented by local law enforcement began to make criminals out of those who lost their housing in one of the most expensive places to live in the South.
A number of Austin-based groups led by people who have experienced homelessness reached out and asked for help from the National Coalition for the Homeless. We worked with local groups to draft this national sign-on letter, asking for the Austin city officials to act in favor of humanity and refuse to further criminalize people for having nowhere to go. We are not taking additional endorsements at this time. If you have questions, please e-mail them to email@example.com
There is news that the Orwellian-sounding Save Austin Now, along with four local businesses, were filing suit against the City of Austin for not enforcing Proposition B against enough unhoused people. The City has denied the charges stating that 18 tickets were issued over the last month. The City of Austin has attempted to place more of the unhoused into hotels, but has not used much of their HUD emergency assistance to give housing relief to those struggling because of the pandemic. In an attempt to pile on, the state also passed HB 1925 which prevents local government from not enforcing anti-camping ordinances.
The millions that have been spent in this effort to criminalize people for being poor by the Texas government and governor, as well as “Save Austin Now” political action committee could have been much better used in ensuring safe, accessible housing for Austin residents!!
The state capital for the most populous state in the union, Sacramento, has struggled with how to serve the large number of people living below the poverty level and able to afford basic housing for years; then the pandemic hit. Sacramento used federal dollars to purchase hotel/motel space during the pandemic, but these spaces were used mainly to deconcentrate the overflowing shelters as opposed to housing people without any shelter. Other cities were able to house those living outside a space in a motel room and successfully reduced the number of people living rough. Due to overwhelming demand and a lack of coordination/planning by the city, Sacramento has actually seen a rise in the outdoor population over the last year. In late January 2021, government inaction saw real consequences with as many as 6 people living outside losing their lives after a horrible wind storm hit the city.
Sacramento, CA, has a relatively high poverty rate of 13.9% and a higher-than-average unemployment rate of 7.1%. The waiting list for a Housing Choice Voucher in Sacramento is typically 4 to 5 YEARS. According to the local ABC affiliate from April to December 2020, there were 4,600 calls to the social services helpline (3-1-1) about homeless people – up from 500 in 2015. Sacramento also has an extremely high cost for basic housing, pricing families and those working in the service sector out of the market. Further, the transportation system is not designed to bring workers into the area where jobs are located from lower rent areas of the community.
The problem is that the situation in Sacramento, and many other cities across the country, was so out of control that when a deadly virus hit the emergency safety net crumbled. Because Sacramento had not sufficiently dealt with the housing emergency for decades, an already taxed system had no ability to stretch to serve new people seeking help. The county was able to keep COVID deaths relatively low, compared to other similarly sized counties, but in order to do so, city services left a large number of people outside.
Beginning in September 2020, the city began “public health” cleanups of the camp sites to avoid calling them law enforcement sweeps. I talked to Crystal Sanchez of the Sacramento Union of the Homeless, a local advocate who works tirelessly to keep in contact with those living outside. She has worked to get supplies, food, trash collection, port-a-potties, and mobile showers to those who are not able to stay indoors. Sanchez leads the local chapter of the National Union of the Homeless, a national movement that first started in 1985. Homeless advocates in Sacramento have formed a community for protection and to amplify their voices. They have appointed leaders in the encampments who then report to Sanchez any issues or problems they are facing.
The biggest frustration among those advocating for those outside is the “all talk and no action” among elected leaders. The addiction services and mental health system has been nearly unavailable to those without housing since the pandemic. Sanchez estimates around 11,000 people are on the streets at any one time with tents everywhere. Sanchez says that community opposition to bringing homeless people into hotels (based on fear and misinformation) has contributed to the rise in street homelessness – even when most hotels were sitting empty early on in the pandemic shutdown. Social workers are overwhelmed and still working remotely.
Despite court fights and protests, and the CDC guidelines urging a pause in any sweeps during the pandemic, city officials have continued to displace those living outdoors. As in many cities, agencies from law enforcement to park rangers have been trashing what few possessions those who stay outside still have, and further displacing vulnerable and already displaced people. There is no one listening to the voices of those who are without housing. No one is addressing the high cost of housing or the pandemic related job losses. The problems faced by those without housing are only complicated by the pandemic. For example, when a homeless individual encounters law enforcement, it is highly likely that the police will “lose” the person’s identification when they are arrested. It is extremely difficult to replace identification when most government offices are shut down to visitors seeking services. While the city has done a good job in vaccinating the overall population against COVID, they really did not have special plans for the unique challenges of those without a residence living outside. There are still issues of shelter oversight, and things like overly restrictive shelter policies. There is a great deal of distrust of the social service system among advocates and those staying outside because of the lack of accountability built into the continuum of care.
There are so many needs in Sacramento, but no one ever asks the people experiencing homelessness what those needs are and then goes about filling those gaps in services. Please read the below poem written by Crystal Sanchez expressing what she and her neighbors are experiencing:
by Crystal Sanchez President of Sacramento Homeless Union/ SAC SOUP
Today I came out to my very conservative parents…… I became homeless Today I was a victim of domestic violence…. I became homeless Today my family member was murdered by law enforcement…….. I became homeless Today I was assaulted…… I became homeless Today my slumlord evicted me…….I became homeless
Today I lost my job……. I became homeless Today I at 80 years old fell and broke my hip and won’t be home for 3 months ……..I will be homeless Today I was involved in a fire I lost everything…… I became homeless Today is the 11th month of a pandemic…… in which I became homeless Today I locked the door for the last time in my small business which didn’t survive the pandemic …….I will become homeless
Today is the last day for the moratorium to pass for rent……. I may become homeless. Today I was released from jail for a past mistake ………I became homeless. Today I buried my spouse my children and …….I became homeless Today a new policy came out to remove me…. Where do I go?…… I am homeless
Maybe today will be the day I connect to the right resources. It’s been 20 years I have done my due diligence the best I can …..and I can’t stay connected. Am I invisible? Can YOU see me? Can YOU hear me? Hello??? Can you help me PLEASE….. Why are you calling me names ?? Why are you throwing things at me?…. Don’t you understand, I’m just like you? NO wait please…. Don’t call the police….. What did I do? I’m sorry, I needed a place dry to rest… There is no where to go!…. Officer where can I go? Why are you taking all my things??….. It’s cold …..It is wet …..Please…. not my tent….He says move along….. The emptiness, the trauma and re enforced trauma….the fear… the wind and rain….. Darkness……it’s cold…God, please help me….
Today, like everyday, I wasn’t accepted. I was rejected…. I am homeless As we warned everyday….Today the weather dropped into dangerous numbers and today the streets took a life…it took my life …..The life of someone who once became homeless Today I became a statistic….because I was homeless.
Today, I ask you comrades to raise your fists and continue this fight with us in solidarity with the 11,000 adults and 700+ kids unhoused neighbors who call the streets of Sacramento home.
Today, I asked you brothers and sisters to chant with me we will do the chants two times Let us start with the first one. I will say, “Too much cold too much heat” You will say “No more death on the street”
Second one I will say: “What do we want?”
You will say, “Housing” I will say, “When do want it?”
You will say, “NOW MAY OUR UNHOUSED REST IN POWER AND MAY WE REMEMBER MOVEMENT MEANS MOVE. FORWARD TOGETHER NOT ONE STEP BACK!”
THANK YOU. -Crystal Sanchez President of Sacramento Homeless Union/ SAC SOUP