UN Special Rapporteur calls Sacramento to Task: Give homeless right to sanitation and water!
By Paula Lomazzi

Jeannie Williams of Safe Ground at Press Conference

Catarina de Albuquerque, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, visited Sacramento on a fact finding mission in February 2011 investigating access to water and sanitation. This visit was part of a larger U.S. tour where she investigated other communities’ water and sanitation issues, such as contaminated water and water service denials to poor people. In her visit to Sacramento, she focused mostly on our homeless population and she found our City wanting and violating the human rights of its homeless residents in respects to their access to water and sanitation.

Catarina wrote a letter to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, dated January 23, 2012, with her concerns and a plea for Sacramento to take heed of its poor treatment of homeless people that don’t, but should, have housing. She stated in the letter that the lack of adequate sanitation and water could “…amount to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.” In her report she stated that “An immediate, interim solution is to ensure access to restroom facilities in public places, including during the night. The long-term solution to homelessness must be to ensure adequate housing."

On her visit to Sacramento in February 2011, she met with homeless people from Safe Ground Sacramento and others in our community. She found that water faucets used by homeless people were decommissioned and that restrooms were being locked, barring access by homeless people that have been left with nowhere to take care of their sanitation needs. Not only has this city infrastructure been denied to the homeless, and actually other residents as well, the City of Sacramento refused to allow the non-profit organization, Safe Ground Sacramento and other benefactors, to provide portable toilets and garbage service to the homeless people living in tent camps.

Safe Ground Sacramento held a press conference on February 7, 2012 outside City Hall, after not getting a response from the city. Speakers were from Safe Ground, Loaves & Fishes, Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, Legal Services
Steve Watters, Safe Ground's Exec. Director
of Northern California and other individuals. At the end of the conference, Tim Buckley demonstrated the sanitation system he developed when he was living in the Safe Ground camp. He titled himself the “Safe Ground Sanitation Engineer”. Using a privacy tent with a camp toilet, he used two plastic bags to line the toilet. Demonstrating the operation with bags of water, he removed the bags and carried in two bicycle baskets about 4 bags full of what he politely nicknamed “spaghetti” in front of all the media. When actually performing the task, he took waste to a public restroom at
Tim Buckley demonstrating sanitation system
Loaves & Fishes about a mile away from the camp and emptied the bags into the sewage system. Catarina de Albuquerque thought the fact that Tim and others must perform this service is unacceptable, and that denial of lawful and dignified sanitation can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Though the letter from the Rapporteur was addressed to the Mayor of Sacramento, the message was to our whole community, and to communities everywhere: to stop denying homeless people the rights to exist and their rights to exist in dignity!
Safe Ground's sanitation system

You can read the letter to Sacramento’s mayor at www.sacloaves.org/un