Dumpster Drivers

When a local homeless crisis becomes an international human-rights violation

Early one Sunday morning in downtown Santa Rosa, a man emerged from a dumpster, got on his bicycle and pedaled off. It was a strange and distressing sight to behold—a fellow human being crawling out from a garbage-filled container.

The scene was emblematic and demonstrated how the county and city homeless crisis has risen to the level of an international human-rights crisis. The Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights announced just that in late September after a Homeless Action report determined that there was “systemic and pervasive violations of at least seven articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

This year, city and county law enforcement agencies have embarked on numerous raids of homeless encampments around the region—repeatedly displacing the already displaced without any real plan for what happens next, besides more rounds of civic hand-wringing.

Commission on Human Rights chair Kevin Jones says enough is enough, as he scolded Sonoma County and Santa Rosa following the Homeless Action report’s release and wrote that “we are not meeting our responsibility to provide sufficient resources to ensure that each person’s right to housing is met,” and 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 any sense of dignity and support of people for whom viable options for housing do not exist.”

It’s not like city officials are unaware of the ongoing crisis. The candidates for Santa Rosa’s newly drawn 2nd and 4th City Council districts participated in a forum at City Hall on Oct. 12, and everyone agreed: Shuffling around the city’s large and visible homeless population from one place to another is not working.

Lee Pierce, who is running against incumbent John Sawyer in the 2nd, highlighted the public-image problems associated with the encampment crackdown, and pledged to “resolve homelessness in a humane way, so it doesn’t hit the papers as inhumane.”

Sawyer concurred that “just moving people around is not the solution.” He also said that when it comes to housing the chronically homeless, “we’ve done a better job than other cities.”

The sentiments were sincere and that may be true, but tell it to the human being who just emerged from a dumpster in downtown Santa Rosa.

Tom Gogola is the news and features editor of the ‘Bohemian’ and ‘Pacific Sun.’

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the ‘Bohemian.’ We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].

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