Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights Reaffirms Need to Respect Human Rights of People Experiencing Homelessness
Pointing to an ongoing human rights crisis impacting unhoused residents of our county, the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights on January 26, 2021 again called for authorities in the County to respect the rights of the homeless and to take specific steps to help resolve the crisis throughout the County. The Commission wrote its original resolution on this issue on August 28, 2018 based on its own findings as well as convincing evidence of systematic violations presented by the advocate group, Homeless Action!
In December 2020, Homeless Action! presented new testimony to the Commission showing that such violations were still a regular occurrence. The 2021 Commission resolution cites the disbanding of encampments, frequently without advance written notice and without appropriate efforts to store and preserve the belongings of evicted campers. A recent example was the January 25, 2021 surprise eviction of campers at Olive Park when sub-zero temperatures were forecast for that night, followed by torrential rains and wind from an atmospheric river due to hit the following day. One observer said that she stood in shock with campers as they watched their tents, blankets and warm clothing being destroyed by police, leaving them without essential belongings necessary to survive the weather.
When the Commission published its first resolution in 2018, then Chair Kevin Jones said that “It was clear that members of our community face threats on a daily basis due to lack of shelter, 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.” He added that “we have been witness to actions that we believe make individual situations worse among the shelterless, increasing risks to safety and health and reducing a sense of dignity and support of people for whom viable options for housing do not exist.”
The new resolution also formally requests that the County of Sonoma and the City of Santa Rosa “immediately cease all actions that violate the fundamental human rights of the unhoused residents of our county, and further that they act to immediately fund and create in all county and city districts safe camping area for immediate use by refugees, with security, hygiene and sanitation facilities, trash collection, housing navigation and all other supporting health and life services as needed.”
“Among the most basic human rights of all people is the right to shelter and respite from the elements, and a modicum of privacy,” said Jerry Threet, current Chair of the Commission on Human Rights. “By focusing on disbanding encampments without providing housing, local governments deprive such residents of stability and their ability to secure these most basic human rights. It also exacerbates vulnerability to COVID infection during a public health pandemic. It is well past time that local governments stop hounding those who have no realistic alternative to camping in public, and instead provide basic facilities that will allow the unhoused to keep their campsites clean and healthy. ‘First, do no harm’ should guide all our actions toward the homeless.”