As the new year approaches, the city of Sacramento continues to be impacted by the pandemic. Economic despair plagues the city leaving many without jobs, homes, and money to provide for their families.
The unhoused community has been hit especially hard with the virus spreading throughout homeless encampments that stretch for miles around the city, and unhoused individuals are left without the essential resources they need to help protect themselves from the virus. Little to no access to masks, hand washing stations, hand sanitizers, and the inability to social distance puts the unhoused community at an even more significant risk.
The city’s response to the homeless crisis has concerned many Sacramento residents and activists. Police interactions with the unhoused community, a lack of resources, and inaction taken by the city of Sacramento worry residents that the homeless crisis has worsened since the start of pandemic.
In an interview conducted by CBS Sacramento, a Sacramento resident named Marco Funes said “I want to see something done…I don’t want to read how they’re going to do something, I want to see something get done.”
The city’s actions are becoming more and more crucial as the winter season arrives. The lack of warming centers and cold temperatures have already taken an unhoused individuals life.
According to the Loaves and Fishes Sacramento press release, Greg Tarola was found “Wrapped in blankets wet from a previous night’s rain, we cannot help but think the 37 degree temperatures last night contributed to his passing…we do know is that this man will not be the last person to pass away outside in the cold winter months of 2020-2021.”
Greg Tarola, an unhoused resident, was 63 at the time he passed and is remembered as a kind, loving, and resilient man by friends, family, and the entire Sacramento community.
On top of lacking resources and support from the city, unhoused residents and large homeless encampments are facing possible sweeps from the city of Sacramento.
Prior to the pandemic unhoused communities and encampments had been experiencing sweeps conducted by the Sacramento Police department that displaced and dispersed many homeless communities throughout the city. When many advocates and health officials had concerns about how conducting sweeps would further spread the virus during the pandemic, a Sacramento county public health order was passed detailing how police were prohibited from conducting sweeps with the exception of specific circumstances.
While this order still stands, many sweeps continue to be conducted throughout the city; many of these sweeps have been documented by homeless advocates and the Sacramento Homeless Union.
Recent sweeps occurring throughout various Sacramento encampments have led to a lawsuit against the city of Sacramento. The lawsuit filed by the Sacramento Homeless Union claims the city had continued to conduct sweeps despite public health guidelines.
“They are not allowed to sweep but they are as documented- in fact they got caught doing police sweeps in the beginning, we filed a lawsuit and got a writ of mandate enforcing and ordering that the city of Sacramento must comply with a public health order,” explained Crystal Sanchez, Sacramento Homeless Union president and SAC S.O.U.P co-founder.
In regards to legal sweeps that have occurred, Sanchez explained that the city and county police have been “utilizing gray areas of the orders” and “have been having a code enforcement and hiring private security to come do their dirty work.”
“The police department also does not have the resources to house or the resources to help people…it is getting so bad that they are then inboxing us to try to bring food to the unhoused” continued Sanchez.
While the city hasn’t made immediate changes, homeless advocates and the Sacramento community has taken the initiative to feed and support their unhoused neighbors.
The Sacramento Homeless Union is a “grassroots, community funded, humanitarian group…made up of unhoused and advocates who fight against injustices that are being committed to our people. We fight for equality, dignity, housing, and no more death on the streets.”
The Sacramento Homeless Union has made tremendous efforts in supporting the unhoused through weekly meals, food services, medical teams that triage for COVID-19 and conduct check-ups, documentation of police sweeps, and “Know Your Rights” trainings for unhoused residents.
“We are fighting for political change not only in the midst of COVID-19 but permanently,” says Sanchez.
Community members and families have also been taking the streets and directly supporting their unhoused neighbors in these difficult times.
Jonathan Ortega Jr. and Bunky Moreno, two Sacramento residents, gathered with their families at a homeless encampment near North B Street to feed the homeless community and give out essential supplies and clothing. The encampment stretched nearly three miles.
The family greeted their unhoused neighbors with big smiles, laughter, and love; when speaking with the family they expressed how they were happy to support and help out their community.
The Dubplate Kitchen, a Jamaican cuisine restaurant, took their business out on the road on Saturday. Sunny and her family gathered to feed their unhoused neighbors; they served delicious plates and snacks to anyone who needed them.
Sacramento continues to uphold its esteemed reputation of unity within the community and it’s great devotion to the city’s well-being- that all residents are supported and uplifted through these trying times.
The Sacramento community has shown even before the pandemic that they will always advocate for their underserved neighbors, and the work that the Sacramento community has put into supporting their unhoused neighbors despite going through a pandemic is highly commended. The efforts of Sacramento advocates and the community towards the homeless crisis give some certainty for the new year ahead, that no matter what challenges Sacramento faces, the community will always be at the rescue.