Advocates Call for Oakland to Repeal Unconstitutional Anti-Poverty Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 27, 2020

Press Contacts:

Terence Long, Ella Baker Center, terence@ellabakercenter.org, 510-936-0344

Ashley Chambers, Ella Baker Center, ashley@ellabakercenter.org, 510-285-8227

 

Advocates Call for Oakland to Repeal Unconstitutional Anti-Poverty Laws

Stress importance of solutions that center voices of the unsheltered

Oakland, CA–Advocates are calling on Mayor Libby Schaaf and the Oakland City Council to repeal 10 unconstitutional anti-poverty laws that are enforced to criminalize people for living on the street. A group of advocates and unsheltered residents delivered a letter to cease and desist the city’s anti-poverty laws and end sweeps of local encampments to Mayor Schaaf on Tuesday, February 25 as the growing homelessness crisis continues to impact low-income families, women and children, and people of color living on the streets.

These city laws work against the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Martin v. Boise that states people cannot be punished for living outside when there is no shelter available for them. Unsheltered communities have been criminalized simply for sitting or lying on the sidewalk, sleeping, sitting in a park, asking for food outside a restaurant, and more. Data shows that 70% of people cited for Oakland’s anti-poverty laws since 2014 were Black - illustrating the disproportionate impact on Black people in the city.

Both unsheltered residents and advocates gave powerful testimony at the Life Enrichment Committee on Tuesday against the criminalization of the city’s most vulnerable people, and the city’s mismanagement of unsheltered encampments and sweeps. Stefani Echeverria-Fenn, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, helped organize an intentional community that houses mostly Black women on vacant city land in response to the homelessness crisis.

“I believe in the power of communities led by homeless people,” said Stefani. “When we talk about any solutions, when we talk about problems like mental illness or drug addiction, all of these have been proven to only be worsened by the trauma of not having a permanent connection to the community, to not having any sort of long-term security where you’re unsure whether you’re gonna be moved the next day, or lose all your stuff the next day.”

“We see fear in saying [encampments] can’t be by schools, it can’t be by senior centers, as if senior citizens are not already in these encampments, as if children are not already in these encampments,” Stefani added.

Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas and Council President Rebecca Kaplan echoed the concerns of advocates and unsheltered residents, stressing the importance of the city providing resources and services for the unsheltered, as well as spaces for these communities to live.

“Where do people go? That’s exactly the question that we need to answer,” said Angelo Isaac Sandoval, Senior Organizer and Legal Advocate with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “As this crisis worsens, we must resist our worst human impulses to act from fear, scarcity and cruelty. Instead, we need to ground ourselves in compassion, solidarity and healing.”

“[These anti-poverty laws are] inequitably enforced against those who are houseless or majority Black residents in our city. That is creating more disparity and it’s not coming from a place of positivity or compassion,” said Allyssa Victory, an attorney with the ACLU. “I encourage [the City] to ensure that you’re in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and repeal these laws.”

In addition to calling on the City of Oakland to repeal anti-poverty laws, advocates urge the city to end the criminalization and retraumatization of the unsheltered by ceasing all encampment sweeps.

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Heal Not Harm is a coalition of organizations that came together to end the criminalization of homelessness in Oakland: the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, The Village, Love & Justice in the Streets, The East Oakland Collective and St. Mary's Center.