California homeless hold demonstration to demand accomodations

Karen Hersh, a homeless woman, carries her belongings at the tent city in Sacramento.

On July 2, 2009, hundreds of homeless Californians marched on the Sacramento Town Hall to demand "safe ground".

It has been about three months since city officials shut down a large "tent city" occupied by Sacramento's homeless people.

Now, some of the tent city's residents say they feel like refugees, with no place to go. They staged a loud demonstration Wednesday, in hopes of pressuring Sacramento officials to find them a new place to camp.

'Where Am I Supposed To Live?'

Philip Grice, 45, has been on the move ever since the tent city closed.

"When we moved out, we moved over to a private area two fields over. They wanted us off of there too. Just like shuttling cattle, that's all it is," said Grice, a carpenter by trade, who wears a T-shirt that reads, "Where am I supposed to live?" "We're supposed to be the eyesore, but actually we're citizens and we're human beings. We're supposed to have rights like everybody else; it don't matter what we have in our pockets."

Grice joined about 250 other homeless people and their supporters for a march through the northern end of Sacramento.

Their action coincided with the closure this week of a temporary shelter where many of the tent city residents had found a roof for the winter. Now these individuals say they need a year-round legal camp on what they call "safe ground."

No Legal Place To Sleep

The march ended up in a hot and dusty city-owned lot next to a police station, where organizers set up a symbolic occupation. Val Jon Farris, founder of a group called iCare America, set up a tent on the lot.

"There is no legal place for people to live unless they own, rent or lease a home. So if you're homeless it's illegal to exist. You can't even lay your head anywhere without getting arrested, prosecuted or criminalized," said Farris. "So this is a demonstration in order to create a civil liberty that ought to already exist, which is [that] people have the right to be, to live without the threat of being incarcerated in their own country."

The idea of a safe ground for homeless campers divides officials in city hall. The mayor, Kevin Johnson, has been receptive, but others, including the city manager, Ray Kerridge, is not. There is also a disagreement over how much it will cost at a time when the city and county are already slashing basic services.

What is not in dispute is that this week Sacramento has 200 more people with no place to sleep.

Posted By

Chilli Sauce
Jul 3 2009 09:42


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Jul 3 2009 09:48

Thanks for the story. I was in California recently, nearby in San Francisco, and I was really shocked by the number of street homeless people. Apparently there are around 15,000 in San Francisco alone, and San Francisco is a small city.

Blood Of Millions
Jul 3 2009 13:01

They should arm themselves and occupy land. there are 200million guns in the USA why don't they have any?

Jul 3 2009 13:51

What a ridiculous suggestion. At best they would all get arrested, but a lot would get killed. Indigenous groups have some history of that sort of thing, but of course it didn't work out so well.

Jul 3 2009 16:29

This is a shocking situation and one which the ruling class is making every effort to hid. It shows the bankruptcy and barbarity of the system very well.
This demonstration could be taste of further such demonstrations by the homeless and unemployed (which are the same thing generally).
The strength of the working class is its consciousness, solidarity and organization. Any fool can wave a gun about, and the bourgeoisie know full well how to deal with that, but workers organising themselves scare the hell out of them.

Chilli Sauce
Jul 3 2009 19:54
Thanks for the story.

Cheers mate. I've been trying to make an effort to submit articles recently, so if I see anything I'll be posting it up...

Geysir Joe
Jul 7 2009 15:47

There should be acres and acres of beautiful land to setup the tent cities on...the California state parks. The state is closing them to save money...the homeless need a place to stay...seems like that might work.

Jul 10 2009 20:30

As long as I can remember San Francisco had some of the highest rent in the country. You could spend a months wages to rent a closet, literally. It has always had an outrageous homeless problem. The solution in the 1990s to homelessness in San Francisco was to push them all out to Oakland and Berkley. The homeless figures themselves are iffy because homeless people, by their nature are hard to do a headcount on, and yet this is exactly how homelessness is calculated by the government in the US. There is a range of homelessness estimates that go from 500,000 homeless, to 2,000,000 or so homeless nationwide. You aren't counted as homeless in the US if you are staying in a homeless shelter. Literally all they count is who they happen to find out on the street at any given moment. The problem has to be much bigger than the worst estimates say it is. I've had a job working as a temp entering labor statistics and I can see now that the entire process of gathering such data masks homelessness, poverty, unemployment, wages, price inflation in a million different ways.

As an anecdotal story, my big sister, an anarchist, had a job doing the census in my home town. To count homelessness all they did was walk to one city park, count the five people sleeping there and then declare that a city of 200,000 people in 1990 had exactly 5 homeless people. FIVE! I could've thrown a rock in the air and hit more homeless people than that.