NatomasSite3.jpg
Natomas Site on Mr. Padilla's land
Homeless Struggle for Place to Call Home

Early last December she stood at the edge of the field, near a cluster of tents, a tall young woman with a pony tail and hands that were ingrained with dust. "We call this our little bit of heaven," she said, waving her arm toward the empty expanse. Behind her, the traffic on highway five roared past, and off in the distance there was a line of trees and the backs of new suburban houses. Two porta-potties
NatomasNeighborhood2.jpg
Natomas neighborhood
stood by the road, one bearing a handwritten sign, "Homeless People Need Work." Wind rippled the American flag that had been raised above one of the nylon tents. The weather was changing. Storms from the northwest were bearing down upon California's central valley.

This small band of homeless people were refugees from a tent city that sprang up over the past months on an empty, unused lot owned by Union Pacific Railroad on the edge of Sacramento, California. When the tents were discovered in November by the police and city officials — more than sixty had been set up — homeless campers were threatened with arrest and the destruction of their property if they didn't move.
BSt.JPG
Law enforcement and advocates by B St. fence
Some did, but others stood their ground, angry and deeply indignant. "I'll pay the consequences, but I'm not running," said one camper, "This is where I call home."

An official count of homeless people in California's capital was conducted on January 30, 2007. On that winter night, the total number of homeless people was 2,452. Of this total, 709 were housed in emergency, one night shelters; 738 were housed in short term transitional shelters; and 1,005 were unsheltered and sleeping in the streets, including 4 children and 17 seniors. The report found that the number of homeless who were housed in emergency or transitional shelters remained fairly constant when compared to previous years, but the number of unsheltered homeless people was significantly higher, resulting in a 10% increase as compared to 2005. Over half of these homeless people suffer from a disabling condition, and have been homeless for a year or more, or have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness within three years.

The City took rapid action to shut down the tent city, sending its population, including children and seniors, back on the streets and the open ground by the river. At the time these residents were evicted, the City offered motel vouchers to cover one or two nights of shelter – and that's it. Then the Union Pacific lot was fenced with barbed wire.

But the community in Sacramento is fighting back. A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of homeless individuals and organizations to call a halt to the criminalization of homelessness. Homeless people should not be cited, arrested, and harassed for sleeping outside when there is no adequate shelter for them. The confiscation and destruction of their few possessions must stop. Jobs, support in recovery, and housing are basic human rights. Support is being actively organized for the lawsuit and for advocacy of the human rights of homeless people. For more information, email Cathleen@markmerin.com.
NatomasFromStreet2.jpg