Oct 22, 2018
By Kathleen Finigan, of Homeless Action!
The Sonoma County Commission on Human rights announced on September 23rd that it had found pervasive violations of internationally recognized human rights of homeless individuals in Sonoma County. The findings were made following a detailed report presented to the Commission by Homeless Action!, an advocacy group based in Santa Rosa. Violations were documented of at least seven articles of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which safeguards basic standards for the health and well-being of people in cases of unemployment, sickness, disability and other circumstances beyond their control.
In addition, the 4th and 8th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are regularly violated.
The most egregious violations include systematic police persecution and criminalization of homeless people, refusal to provide basic sanitation to encampments, and the failure of both Santa Rosa and Sonoma County to provide immediate and appropriate relief to some 2,000 people – most of them disabled - who sleep on the streets here every night because they have no place else to go.
The Commission approved a resolution calling for an immediate amnesty from arrests of people for camping in public space and the creation of county-wide safe haven villages with security, hygienic facilities, case management and wraparound services. Commission Chair Kevin Jones declared that it is "clear to each of us that members of our community face threats on a daily basis and that as a community, we are not meeting our responsibility to provide sufficient resources to ensure that each person's right to housing is met. Further, we have been witness to actions that we believe make individual situations worse, increasing risks to safety and health."
As if the case needed further proof, the Santa Rosa Police Department provided more in abundance just days later during a sweep of a tent and RV encampment at Northpoint Business Park in Santa Rosa. Concurrent with the towing of vehicles that had been ongoing for some weeks, police on September 28th declared a three-hour warning for campers to clear out. When they returned, what remained - 26 tents with all possessions within – were summarily bulldozed and trashed. No written eviction notice had ever been posted nor were evictees offered temporary storage for their possessions as has been the case with previous sweeps overseen by the county.
"I took some stuff to storage and came back to nothing. They took our neat piles that were obviously being moved. We lost all our clothes, shoes, coats, phone chargers and cords, speakers, two laptops, papers, all of our pet food and gear, all our blankets and our tent."
"They ripped my mother's tent and dragged it and everything in it across the street, and all of her things fell out and were left in the street. Now I feel really, really lost."
"They really enjoyed doing that to us. I've never seen such brutal cruelty, such hateful cops in my whole life. And they stood nearby and laughed."
"Lives were destroyed today. They took everything except what's in this wheelbarrow. I have no idea where I'm going and I'm worried about my friends – they are elders in bad health and I don't know where they are."
In the aftermath, Santa Rosa housing officials released on October 1st a claim trumpeting their "compassionate approach" to the Northpoint situation. In addition, SRPD claimed that written eviction notices and storage weren't required in this case. However, when police returned on October 3rd to sweep a few tents that had popped up over the weekend, they curiously posted notices of eviction dated October 3rd for eviction Oct 3rd and offered storage to the people there.
Despite repeated declarations of a homeless emergency crisis, officials continue to ignore the increasingly desperate needs of unsheltered human beings here. The unrelenting persecution, evictions and arrests of people who have no place to go has created refugee status for people in their own country.
Will citizens of Sonoma County rise to the occasion and stand up to demand justice? Winter is coming - there's no more time to waste!
Homeless Action! is a group of grassroots activists in Northern California working towards ending the suffering of people who do not have a home. INFO: https://www.facebook.com/humanitycounts/
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