Sacramento, CA

Nonprofits oppose Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg's right to housing proposal

Robert J Hansen

Obligation to accept is part of right to housing "sham" advocates say

Sacramento, Calif.-- By Robert J Hansen

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People sleeping in tents in front of Sacramento City Hall on Wednesday, July 7, 2021.Robert J Hansen

The Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee (SHOC) and other organizations opposed Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s proposed declaration of the right to housing in a letter sent to the Mayor on July 20.

SHOC's mission is to amplify the voice of the homeless and low income community to accomplish economic and social justice.

The Mayor’s recently proposed “Declaration of a Right to Housing” will be taken to the City Council with the goal of enacting an ordinance according to the letter.

“However, [the proposal] falls far short of what is necessary to alleviate the suffering of the thousands of homeless individuals and families in Sacramento,” the letter said.

"The Right To Housing" sure sounds good but a good look at the proposal actually takes away from rights instead, Zuri Colbert, Founder of Community Lead Advocacy Project (CLAP) said.

CLAP is one of nearly a dozen nonprofis to sign the letter opposing the Mayor's right to housing declaration and provides community reach outs, resource assistance and advocacy support for the Sacramento community.

“It’s definitely an issue to tell people like our unhoused community that have already been through the wringer or worse that they have to accept ‘housing’ or will face legal consequences,” Colbert said.

Regardless of the types of housing were specified, every person has a right to say no without being civilly penalized according to Colbert

“Especially when the proposal is not laying out the specifics of ‘types of housing’ or choices laid out,” Colbert said.

No adequate or appropriate housing or shelter currently exists in Sacramento for the thousands of unhoused people who reside here according to the letter.

The city’s proposed “Declaration” of a right to housing is a sham, fundamentally dishonest and misleading the letter said.

Crystal Sanchez, founder of the Sacramento Homless Union (SHU), said the nonprofits are approaching this from different angles legally.

SHU is the local chapter of the National Union of the Homeless dedicated to ending homelessness and provides equipment, clothing and supplies to people living on the streets in Sacramento, California.

"We hope to get the point across to the Mayor and the Statewide co-chair of the homeless task force that there is no reason to enforce people into housing that we do not have," Sanchez said.

According to Sanchez, Sacramento lacks 63,000 units of affordable housing and 6000 people can no longer afford to rent here.

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Visualization by Robert J Hansen

"What we see here is segregation of people. We also see again Sacramento putting the cart before the horse," Sanchez said. "How do we enforce something we do not have why are we criminalizing or unhoused communities based on the failures elected officials made around housing policy?"

“The declaration interferes with full public exposure of, and opposition to, the City’s utter abandonment and neglect of the unhoused community, so apparent during the extreme heat now beating down on encampments,” the letter said. “It is window dressing that looks good but has a negative impact and blocks real change.”

Eric Tars, legal director of the National Homelessness Law Center in Washington, D.C., said Steinberg’s plan to couple housing rights with a parallel duty by homeless people to accept a bed if it is offered ran counter to the spirit of the ‘right to housing’ concept.

“The right to housing is based on the inherent dignity of the individual, so a straightforward obligation to accept whatever is offered undermines that,” Tars said.

A mandate requiring homeless people to accept housing could be difficult to enforce in California which has laws that severely restrict civil commitments and forced treatment for mental illness.

“Steinberg, a former state lawmaker who for decades has been a leading Democratic voice in California on homelessness and mental health policy, acknowledged the state’s history of embracing the civil rights of homeless residents,” Tara said. “But said that ‘sometimes the pendulum swings too far.’”

Mayor Steinberg, we do not believe that the “pendulum” has swung “too far” in constitutionally protecting the liberty and dignity of unhoused individuals,"' the letter said. "On the contrary, the “pendulum” has not swung far enough. Let’s build the housing and provide treatment on demand."

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Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Focused on holding elected officials, police and the courts accountable to the people throughout the greater Sacramento area.

Sacramento, CA
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