Exclusion is NOT the Solution
By Erica Fonseca

It was early morning, around the first of the month when I first saw the fence. It spanned the length of Ahern Street, and completely enclosed the sidewalk where many people had just yesterday congregated, waving and smiling as I rode by on my bike. While fences, marginalization, and restrictions are nothing new to homeless people who daily come in contact with the exclusionary policies of Sacramento, this fence was unique. It literally enclosed the entire sidewalk on Ahern Street, rendering it useless, not only to pedestrians and cyclists, but to the many homeless people who routinely slept or gathered there. Through the erection of this fence or more aptly called - barricade, this relatively small, harmless community was instantly destroyed, of course, not alleviating any of the causes and consequences of homelessness, but only furthering the displacement of Sacramento’s homeless population. Through conversations with folks who were sleeping on Ahern it was discovered, under the cover of early morning darkness, the fence was constructed, sending a clear message to homeless people in Sacramento: You cannot exist. Go anywhere but here.
SHOC (Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee) activists, many of whom are currently homeless themselves, are acutely aware of the criminalization of homeless people, through laws and policies that make it illegal to stand, sit, or lay anywhere for very long. Within two days of the fence’s arrival, SHOC members were actively questioning the legality of the fence, and pursuing any information
The in-the-street fence on Ahern before it was removed. The barbed-wire topped inner fence protected an empty warehouse for over a decade, now it protects a vacant lot.
that justified its existence. Quickly it was discovered that the fence had no permit backing its construction, and through a conversation with a city code enforcer, it was scheduled to be disassembled within the week. Surprised, yet excited by the ease in which the fence would be removed, SHOC members felt pleased at the immediate success of their action. However, by the scheduled date for removal of the fence, it remained. Unwavering in their commitment to challenge, not only the fence’s presence, but the loud message it sends, SHOC members decided to pursue their cause at the next city council meeting.

On July 16, long-time SHOC activist Tracie Rice-Bailey addressed the city council, citing both the illegality of the fence as well as the message its presence conveys. Within her brief address she respectfully listed off six “city codes” that illuminated the illegality of the fence, not to mention the liability for the city should someone be hurt while biking or walking on the street. Within two minutes of her eloquent address, Tracie was interrupted by a concerned Vice Mayor, Angelique Ashby, who clarified the location of the fence, and with a sense of urgency informed Tracy that the City Manager would be sent out to investigate. In the week after SHOC members’ address at City Hall, the fence came down.
Biking to work yesterday morning, I saw many of the same people congregated, whose smiles and waves I had missed over the past two weeks. These people are back, but they never really left. They were just out of sight, forced yet again, into the margins of the Sacramento landscape. If attempts to alleviate “the homeless problem” in Sacramento continue to manifest in criminalization, exclusion, and stigmatization, structurally-rooted causes of homelessness will continue to be ignored and overlooked. Isn’t visibility the exact thing we need to get people concerned and mobilized? Homeless people need housing and safe, sustainable places to sleep at night, not mysterious fences that seek to make them invisible. Until reactionary efforts, such as blocking a sidewalk to prevent people from sleeping are obsolete, efforts for wide-scale systemic change, preventative services, and immediate housing and quality of life services will continue to be under-explored. Indeed, the battle is won, but the war rages on!