Essay: Help the homeless, help stem the pandemic

Faye Wilson Kennedy is co-chairperson of the California Poor People’s Campaign and member of the Sacramento Poor People’s Campaign.

A new Sacramento coalition says the coronavirus response could be the blueprint for permanent solutions

By Bob Erlenbusch and Faye Wilson Kennedy

The Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, Sacramento Poor People’s Campaign, Safe Ground Sacramento and the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee recently founded the Sacramento Services Not Sweeps Coalition to focus our collective advocacy efforts on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is impacting people experiencing homelessness in our community.

SSNSC is now 20 organizations strong, consisting of people with homelessness experience, housing and homeless advocates, service providers, the interfaith community and labor.

It is critical that in the coming days we remain in “emergency advocacy mode,” challenging law enforcement not to close encampments and move homeless people along (sometimes destroying their personal property as well), since this only makes the pandemic worse; outreach and health workers cannot find people who are symptomatic or sick.

The new coalition will also continue to advocate for robust sanitation solutions for encampments—portable toilets, mobile bathroom and shower programs, hand washing and sanitizing stations, drinking water, trash pick-up service—as well as delivery of food, tents and first-aid kits. We will urge an immediate moratorium on the city and county ticketing and towing RVs and cars that people use for shelter; seek protective gear for front-line shelter and outreach workers; and call for expanded shelter and housing, including the use of motels and hotels.

Bob Erlenbusch is executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness.

Additionally we have sent a list of questions to the Sacramento Homeless COVID-19 Response Team, which includes the city, county, Sacramento Steps Forward and the Sacramento Housing & Redevelopment Agency. They include:

When will hotel and motel rooms be available? Has triage already started? Who will be doing case management? What is the ratio of patients to case managers?

For those who are placed in hotels, what is the longer term plan? Once better and released from hotels and hospitals, what are the discharge plans? Where do they go? When can shelter providers expect protective gear?

What is the plan for Sacramento County’s share of the $150 million in state money to protect the homeless from coronavirus? Is Sacramento Steps Forward the conduit for these funds? If not, who is?

When will Broadway/X Street and Meadowview shelters open? When will the Safe Parking program open? What is being done to address the needs of the 13,000 homeless students in Sacramento school districts?

The community deserves an immediate response to these questions to save the lives of our homeless and housed neighbors.

“Our coalition calls on elected officials and community leaders to begin to think beyond the immediate crisis and seize the opportunity to use our emergency responses to this pandemic and make them permanent for homeless and low-income people.”

Finally, our coalition calls on elected officials and community leaders to begin to think beyond the immediate crisis and seize the opportunity to use our emergency responses to this pandemic and make them permanent for homeless and low-income people.

Until there is enough affordable and accessible housing in our community, homelessness will continue to be a public health and humanitarian crisis. We must keep in place the expanded shelter and housing and maintain our sanitation and public health responses to the encampments and people living on the streets. We should not return to criminalizing people experiencing homelessness with Sacramento County’s “whack-a-mole” strategy of park rangers closing 440 camps a month.

Post COVID-19, we must permanently embrace the human right to water, sanitation, nutritious food, health care and housing.

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1 Comment on "Essay: Help the homeless, help stem the pandemic"

  1. Myself and my spouse have been homeless for over 6 years now and have not once been counted, approuched,or offered any assistance what so ever. I have worked whenever I could, we are respectful to the community and others, try to go unnoticed, never litter or cause any harm to anyone or our surroundings. We do not like to be looked at as homeless by the public because of the way they are perceived. We hear about all this talk from politicians on what they are doing for the homeless yet have seen nothing. A lot of money has been allocated to help eliminate homelessness but the only thing we can see so far is the government hiring people to do a study. How is that helping the situation. Their studies of how many homeless people are out there is a complete failure so what makes me think this next “study” will be any different? It’s all sounding like a bunch of bullshit as the push around a wet noodle which accomplishes nothing. Somebody needs to step up and actually do something! Where is all this money going? Can anyone answer that question?
    Homeless, frustrated and hopeless

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