Sacramento, Calif. -- By Robert J Hansen
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced his proposal to make housing a right and obligate Unhoused residents to accept housing at last week’s State of the City address.
Steinberg wants Sacramento to be the first to enact both a legal right to safe shelter and housing, and a parallel obligation for unsheltered people to accept that shelter and housing when it is offered.
“In our society, housing and caring for those who are sick is an option, not a requirement. Housing is an economic commodity, not a right,” Steinberg said. “You can have it only if you can afford it or you are lucky enough to qualify for the limited number of supportive housing units.”
Steinberg said a legal obligation to come indoors paired with a legal right can be the difference between life and death.
“I do not believe that most unsheltered homeless people want to live outdoors. I also do not believe that living on the streets in squalor is a civil right,” Steinberg said.
Merle Castle has lived at "Ground Zero" in Rio Linda for three years and says she wants to stay because it’s her home.
“He [the Ranger] was trying to be nice about it but I couldn’t move that [her shelter] if I wanted to,” Castle said.
The encampment has been there at least ten years according to Castle and is currently under order to vacate by order of Sacramento County.
“We aren’t bothering anyone here and this place has been here a long time,” Castle said. “I don’t see why we even have to move.”
Another resident, Carol Dutcher said she needs her shelter to make candles that she sells.
“Not all people out here don’t want to work,” Dutcher said. “I can’t make my candles if I don’t have shelter over my head.”
Joe Smith of Loaves and Fishes said he is trying to not react in the moment without all the details.
“I’m kind ofsitting back waiting for more explanation so that I can really dig into the advocacy part of it,” Smith said.
Smith does not think people should be penalized for not accepting housing.
“I’m really confused as to what they mean.” Smith said. “I mean, what’s the penalty here man?”
It’s one thing to offer help for people’s safety, if it’s feasible but trying to force someone into treatment is another according to Smith.
“An obligation to accept is almost contrary to the right to housing,” Smith said.
Gary Painter is the Director of the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation and the Homelessness Policy Research Institute at University of Southern California who has spoken to the Mayor about his views on housing as a human right.
“The critical thing is that it isn’t exactly well delineated,” Painter said. “What does it mean to offer someone housing and what does it mean if someone refuses that offer?”
Painter said people have to recognize that when people are living on the streets, they have a much higher risk of developing illnesses and dying.
“We can't just offer someone a month in a hotel and if they don't accept it, say ‘okay’ and walk away,” Painter said. “That means we have to think about our approach when making that offer.”
Painter said alternatives that actually protect human life need to be developed.
“We have laws in place that protect people, perhaps from their own poor judgement,” Painter said.
Others may be making these decisions based on several outside negative factors or experiences according to Painter.
“Maybe they have been failed by the foster care system, they’ve been failed by another system, so they simply don't trust the offer,” Painter said.
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