Issues

On George Floyd

GeorgeFloyd.jpgThe founding of America and its freedom, or illusion of freedom, has been described as "revolutionary, contagious and incomplete."  Our society and even our politics permit the detrimental and dehumanizing treatment of certain people. Our freedom does not allow us as individual citizens to lead lives in harmony with our environment, our culture, or our potential if the freedoms aren't extended to all.

I have been grieving since, as a child, I watched Blacks in Selma and other southern towns, chased down by police dogs and fired upon with high-powered water hoses. The crimes of these Black folks was their pursuit of racial equality. These peaceful protests were met with hatred and violence. 

I grieved when I saw Dr. Martin Luther King lead more peaceful protests, even as he was targeted by the FBI and the police. I watched the challenge to his humanity and the hatred of white folks who propped up their own sense of superiority by rendering Dr. King and other Blacks as less than, until he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

With millions of others, I watched in horror in 1991, as Rodney King was savagely beaten by police in Los Angeles.

Each time as I watched this maddening history of another murder, another injustice, another case of police brutality carried out against a Black body, I and every other Black person -- and perhaps every humane and sane person -- was re-traumatized. Our bodies, our selves are constantly under attack. As a friend reminded me in a recent letter, Black people are not safe in this world.

I am repeatedly in this cycle of needing to commit thoughts to paper to unpack my feelings and yes, my emotions over the senseless repetition of murders of Black bodies. I am saddened, and I am heartbroken. I feel rage and I feel vulnerable. My humanity is exposed. The emotions are present all the time, hovering just beneath the surface.  Black people are criminalized in this country for the color of our skin.

I wrote a version of this letter when Tamir Rice was killed. I wrote a version when Christopher Whitfield, William Green, Travon Martin, Darius Tarver, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tony McDade and Ahmaud Arbery were killed. When Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Kyam Livingston died at the hands of police, I wrote a version of this letter to my daughters. The deaths continue, and the list of the dead goes on and on.

On May 25, 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, a 17 year-old Black young woman who might have otherwise been at home like many of us, sheltering in place, stilled herself and documented the murder of a Black man, 46 year-old George Floyd.  Four police officers participated in the death of Mr. Floyd. This killing took 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Black people are not safe in this country. I lift up the young woman who documented this murder (respecting the fact that she is a minor) because of the trauma I know it caused her. Our Black children are forced to grow up fast. And now, these same children must constantly be armed with weapons of mass and harsh documentation; fully-charged cell phones to capture the dehumanization of their own people asphyxiated under the weight of white oppression, hatred, and racism. And I lift her up because without her documentation, the police report that stated George Floyd physically resisted officers might have been uncontested. This young Black woman stood her ground under the weight of the public execution, tantamount to a lynching, on the streets of Minneapolis. She stood her ground, as our children must, under the weight of an Administration that frankly appears to despise them.

A counterfeit bill allegedly used by George Floyd prompted the igniting call to the police. For a Black man or woman, calling the police can go horribly wrong. Black people are not treated justly. Over a $20 bill, George Floyd was murdered. The bill should have been taken out of circulation, not the man.

We saw Colin Kaepernick peacefully take a knee and lose his job, have his career end because of his peaceful protest. Do you understand his protest any better now?

There have been protests and riots across the country. A protest allows the expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent, often in opposition to something a person is powerless to prevent or avoid. "A riot is the language of the unheard." (Dr King)

Black lives are not valued. This lack of value has been projected and sanctioned loudly and clearly throughout the history of this country from the White House, the FBI, to the police with sponsored power to murder. And citizens, as well as other police, who stand by and justify the police activity resulting in the inhumane treatment of others are complicit in the injustice.

Where is the rage for human life lost and what are we willing to do to stop this inhumane treatment of a race of people? White people taking to the streets hidden behind masks with hammers in hand destroying property and painting signs on businesses that black lives matter will not solve the issues.

We have an Administration that calls white people who riot and destroy in order to preserve a legacy of slavery and inequality “good people.” For actions around justice for Blacks, by Black people, we are called “thugs” by the same administration.

How do we change this continuous cycle of injustice?

In the US, Black people make up almost 13% of the population. In Richmond, Blacks comprise around 20% of the population. Both nationally and locally there are significant employment and wage disparities, education gaps, housing instability and food insecurity that render Black people institutionally and generationally disadvantaged. Aggression against Black people and murders of these people by police are intentional and not separate from the other institutions that regard Black as less than.

Black bodies have to count in our overall struggle. Not as a placeholder or a chant, but in the policies and platforms we champion. How are Black students being educated and are we recognizing their needs in our advocacy? When 60% of Black folks in Richmond rent their living spaces -- their homes, and they and others in Richmond overwhelmingly voted for rent control, how does local government show that it values those same people while attempting to repeal the very protection that provides some semblance of housing stability? As we struggle to balance the citys budget, are we funding the licensing of police to kill Black people, or should the protection of Black people be prioritized and the police demilitarized and defunded?

How do we measure up? How are the organizations -- including local government -- you support engaged around the freedom of Black people and the protection of our lives?  How is this reflected in policies we support and people we elect?

In order for Black people to be free and treated with justice, our own organized efforts have to demonstrate that the fight is for their freedom. Black people must be free if any of our society is to be free.

-- BK Williams, Richmond Progressive Alliance Co-chair

Edited with Nicole Valentino

COVID-19 resources

The following are several resources that may be helpful as Richmond faces the coronavirus pandemic (updated 4/28/2020):

Healthcare and testing

Typical symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath. Call the Contra Costa Health Advice Nurse if you have emergency symptoms (these include: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest; new confusion or inability to arouse; bluish lips or face): 877-661-6230

West County Health Center in San Pablo (13601 San Pablo Avenue, San Pablo) will be offering free, drive-through testing, regardless of insurance, and by appointment only. To make an appointment, call 1-844-421-0804 for a confidential screening by a health professional. Hours of operation: Monday - Friday, from 8 am to 3:30 pm Testing results are available in three to five days.

CCC Health Services is accepting donations of personal protective equipment and supplies for health workers.

Wage replacement/ unemployment

Fact Sheet from Department of Labor explaining new employee paid leave benefits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

State of California EDD COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions, with updated information on Disability and Paid Family Leave benefits, and Unemployment insurance benefits.

See also California EDD’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which covers business owners, self-employed individuals, and independent contractors.

Richmond Rapid Response Fund, launched by the City and several non-profit partners can provide one-time payments of $500. RYSE has launched a COVID Care Fund to support youth and their families, while Asia Pacific Environmental Network has also created an Emergency Community Stabilization Fund.

Food                                                                                                                         

The West Contra Costa Unified School District has expanded its student meal program during the COVID-19 school closure, adding supper to the breakfast and lunch pick up. Children 18 years of age and younger, regardless of socio-economic status or school of attendance, can now pick up breakfast, lunch and supper from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 17 locations in the District. Volunteers are needed to assemble and distribute meals (sign up here).

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano County provides 15-20 pounds of free fresh produce to low-income families and individuals twice a month at nine locations in Richmond. (Please bring two bags with handles.) They also provide groceries twice a month to low-income individuals aged 55 or older (at three locations). They are seeing a 50 percent increase in people attending their food distributions; they welcome volunteers in at their Concord warehouse, and are asking for monetary donations.

Housing

The City has a moratorium on evictions for tenants who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19 (tenants have to pay owed rent within six months after the period of emergency ends). Affected Tenants need to (1) notify Landlords in writing within 30 days of the date rent is due of their inability to pay rent and (2) state the ways in which they have been financially impacted and attach supporting documentation to support their claims. See sample letters that tenants can send their landlords in English and Spanish. See also a COVID-19 and Evictions Fact Sheet (English and Spanish). 

Childcare

Child care centers/homes are allowed to stay open to care for children of essential workers, including those working in gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, food banks, take-out and delivery, banks, laundry, agriculture, healthcare, transportation, communications, essential state and local government functions. Go to cocokids.org to find childcare. Families can also fill out a form for child care subsidy & paying for care. 

Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse has risen worldwide since the coronavirus. WOMAN, Inc. is a referral service for victims of domestic violence. They run a 24/7 hotline at 1-877-384-3578; http://www.womaninc.org

Hate crimes

If you have experienced or witnessed any anti-Asian hate crime in the wake of COVID-19 contact the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council at (213) 239-0300 or info@a3pcon.org.

Register to Vote by Mail

Register to vote by mail with Contra Costa County. Richmond now has a permanent vote-by-mail box in the walk way in front of the City Council parking lot. 

RPA Voter Guide for March 3, 2020 Primary

Vote for: Bernie Sanders

For many folks, voting for Bernie for the Democratic nomination may be the most exciting vote you’ll cast this March.

Months ago, the RPA membership voted to endorse Bernie Sanders (for those voting in the Democratic primary), for all the reasons you know: he is the strongest progressive in the field, and is also the only person running for President who is a real movement candidate.

What does this mean? It means that Bernie knows we need to build a real multiracial, working class movement for the long term. And that change comes from the bottom up, not the top down. His Presidential bids have never been about himself and his ego. They haven’t even been about winning an election. His campaigns have been about winning a political revolution through mass mobilization and long-term organizing.

That’s why many of us still count his 2016 Democratic presidential bid as a victory – because of the spark it lit for progressive politics across this country. This spark gave us inspiring progressive leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, The Squad, and the dozens of electeds endorsed by Our Revolution (of which the RPA is an affiliate).

Vote yes: Proposition 13

Proposition 13 (don’t get confused, it’s not that Prop 13) would authorize the issuance of up to $15 billion in state school bonds for facility repair, construction and modernization.

About $9 billion would go to K-12 schools, with most of that going toward repairing and renovating schools rather than building new ones.

Funds from state school bonds, such as the ones that would be approved by this measure, are used to provide matching funds to individual school districts to construct or upgrade school buildings. In the past, some larger wealthier school districts were able to raise funds faster (via issuing their own local bonds), thus taking a disproportionate share of the state monies.

In contrast, this ballot measure would make it a priority for low-income school districts (such as West Contra Costa) to get access to the funds. It creates a sliding scale for fund-matching, so that disadvantaged schools would receive a higher percentage of state money.

According to an OpEd by California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, funds would also prioritize those school facilities that are in serious disrepair or suffer from unsafe contamination – including lead contamination, mold and asbestos.

Vote yes: Measure R

Measure R is a West Contra Costa Unified School District $575 million bond measure for classroom modernization and safety updates. Past WCCUSD bond measures have benefited schools throughout the district, but unfortunately many of our Richmond schools have been among the last on the list. Richmond voters need to really get behind this measure to receive our share.

The maximum estimated property tax is $.06 per $100 assessed value (which comes out to $240 annually for a house with a $400,000 assessed value).

The following are excerpts from an Op-Ed signed by Consuelo Lara, West Contra Costa Trustee; Leslie Reckler, President Bayside Council PTA’s; Jose De Leon, Principal Richmond High School; and Demetrio Gonzalez, President United Teachers of Richmond.

Over the last 20-plus years, our community has been generous and has made incredible investments in WCCUSD. The District has used previous bonds to rebuild and modernize many of the schools in our neighborhoods – 44 of 53 schools in the District have been rebuilt or had some renovation – but the work is unfinished…

Independent experts have indicated that over $1 billion in improvements are required at District schools. And, many of these schools are located in very underserved areas – especially Richmond. In our diverse district, this is a major equity issue. Now, it is time for schools like Stege, Fairmont, Valley View, Kennedy High and Richmond High (which are on the priority list) to be rebuilt…

The effects of climate change can be seen on a regular basis with more hot days causing the need for air conditioning in places where it wasn’t previously needed. Measure R could provide air conditioning to our hottest schools where the need is serious. Every year, we see a growing number of students, teachers, and staff hurt by the dangerously hot temperatures in their classrooms to the level where this year alone three teachers had to go to the hospital over heat exhaustion. Technology has advanced, so school buildings need robust wireless infrastructure to support the devices students and teachers need for instruction. These things are expensive and cannot be paid for out of the normal school district budget…

This year we are also asked to support a complementary bond (Prop 13) for statewide facilities funds.  The passage of Prop 13 will increase available matching funds from the state for school construction. Over the years, because of voter support of our building program, West Contra Costa taxpayers have received over $166 Million Dollars in matching state funds — the passage of both Prop 13 and Measure R will ensure that our partnership with the state for school building funds will continue.  If Measure R fails, we will be leaving potential matching funds on the table – forfeiting our share.

Vote yes: Measure J

Measure J is a transportation plan that would raise $103 million annually through a ½ cent sales tax for 35 years. It ultimately would provide $1.9 billion dollars of new transit operations funding, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and programs, and investments in sustainable travel modes.

Our friends at TransForm, a local transportation justice organization, calls Measure J “the most equitable and sustainable transportation funding measure the county has ever seen.”

An excerpt from their blog post follows:

Unlike most transportation funding schemes, Measure J is not a grab-bag of pet projects. It lays out the goals and outcomes by which potential projects will be judged in order to receive funding, like emissions reductions, benefits for low-income residents and underserved communities, open space protection, and congestion reduction. 

The measure will help some of the most vulnerable residents of the County by:

  • Ensuring that investments provide a disproportionately greater benefit for low-income residents and Communities of Concern;
  • Requiring cities to adopt anti-displacement and affordable housing policies in order to receive measure money, tying housing production and tenants rights to transportation funding (we hope this can be a model for other measures);
  • Providing more free and reduced fares for students, seniors, and people with disabilities;

There’s even more to like about the substance of Measure J. It will:

  • Prioritize projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) in accordance with state climate mandates;
  • Establish an exciting new program for reducing driving, called a “VMT mitigation bank” — the first of its kind in California. Any measure-funded project that does not decrease VMT will have to offset its impacts by funding VMT-reducing projects such as transit, walking, and biking improvements. If this passes in Contra Costa, we believe it will help spur other similar programs across the state;
  • Prioritize safety and access for people who walk, bike, and use public transportation by requiring all roadway funding to abide by new transit, Complete Streets and road safety policies;
  • Create a strong Public Oversight Committee to ensure more accountability and public involvement in the measure’s implementation, including adding four seats for representatives of people with disabilities, transit riders, low-income communities, and climate advocates;
  • Allow Contra Costa County to participate in a state program that will direct millions of dollars in development impact fees to priority conservation projects.

RPA Voter Guide for March 3, 2020 Primary

Vote for: Bernie Sanders

For many folks, voting for Bernie for the Democratic nomination may be the most exciting vote you’ll cast this March.

Months ago, the RPA membership voted to endorse Bernie Sanders (for those voting in the Democratic primary), for all the reasons you know: he is the strongest progressive in the field, and is also the only person running for President who is a real movement candidate.

What does this mean? It means that Bernie knows we need to build a real multiracial, working class movement for the long term. And that change comes from the bottom up, not the top down. His Presidential bids have never been about himself and his ego. They haven’t even been about winning an election. His campaigns have been about winning a political revolution through mass mobilization and long-term organizing.

That’s why many of us still count his 2016 Democratic presidential bid as a victory – because of the spark it lit for progressive politics across this country. This spark gave us inspiring progressive leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, The Squad, and the dozens of electeds endorsed by Our Revolution (of which the RPA is an affiliate).

Vote yes: Proposition 13

Proposition 13 (don’t get confused, it’s not that Prop 13) would authorize the issuance of up to $15 billion in state school bonds for facility repair, construction and modernization.

About $9 billion would go to K-12 schools, with most of that going toward repairing and renovating schools rather than building new ones.

Funds from state school bonds, such as the ones that would be approved by this measure, are used to provide matching funds to individual school districts to construct or upgrade school buildings. In the past, some larger wealthier school districts were able to raise funds faster (via issuing their own local bonds), thus taking a disproportionate share of the state monies.

In contrast, this ballot measure would make it a priority for low-income school districts (such as West Contra Costa) to get access to the funds. It creates a sliding scale for fund-matching, so that disadvantaged schools would receive a higher percentage of state money.

According to an OpEd by California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, funds would also prioritize those school facilities that are in serious disrepair or suffer from unsafe contamination – including lead contamination, mold and asbestos.

Vote yes: Measure R

Measure R is a West Contra Costa Unified School District $575 million bond measure for classroom modernization and safety updates. Past WCCUSD bond measures have benefited schools throughout the district, but unfortunately many of our Richmond schools have been among the last on the list. Richmond voters need to really get behind this measure to receive our share.

The maximum estimated property tax is $.06 per $100 assessed value (which comes out to $240 annually for a house with a $400,000 assessed value).

The following are excerpts from an Op-Ed signed by Consuelo Lara, West Contra Costa Trustee; Leslie Reckler, President Bayside Council PTA’s; Jose De Leon, Principal Richmond High School; and Demetrio Gonzalez, President United Teachers of Richmond.

Over the last 20-plus years, our community has been generous and has made incredible investments in WCCUSD. The District has used previous bonds to rebuild and modernize many of the schools in our neighborhoods – 44 of 53 schools in the District have been rebuilt or had some renovation – but the work is unfinished…

Independent experts have indicated that over $1 billion in improvements are required at District schools. And, many of these schools are located in very underserved areas – especially Richmond. In our diverse district, this is a major equity issue. Now, it is time for schools like Stege, Fairmont, Valley View, Kennedy High and Richmond High (which are on the priority list) to be rebuilt…

The effects of climate change can be seen on a regular basis with more hot days causing the need for air conditioning in places where it wasn’t previously needed. Measure R could provide air conditioning to our hottest schools where the need is serious. Every year, we see a growing number of students, teachers, and staff hurt by the dangerously hot temperatures in their classrooms to the level where this year alone three teachers had to go to the hospital over heat exhaustion. Technology has advanced, so school buildings need robust wireless infrastructure to support the devices students and teachers need for instruction. These things are expensive and cannot be paid for out of the normal school district budget…

This year we are also asked to support a complementary bond (Prop 13) for statewide facilities funds.  The passage of Prop 13 will increase available matching funds from the state for school construction. Over the years, because of voter support of our building program, West Contra Costa taxpayers have received over $166 Million Dollars in matching state funds — the passage of both Prop 13 and Measure R will ensure that our partnership with the state for school building funds will continue.  If Measure R fails, we will be leaving potential matching funds on the table – forfeiting our share.

Vote yes: Measure J

Measure J is a transportation plan that would raise $103 million annually through a ½ cent sales tax for 35 years. It ultimately would provide $1.9 billion dollars of new transit operations funding, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and programs, and investments in sustainable travel modes.

Our friends at TransForm, a local transportation justice organization, calls Measure J “the most equitable and sustainable transportation funding measure the county has ever seen.”

An excerpt from their blog post follows:

Unlike most transportation funding schemes, Measure J is not a grab-bag of pet projects. It lays out the goals and outcomes by which potential projects will be judged in order to receive funding, like emissions reductions, benefits for low-income residents and underserved communities, open space protection, and congestion reduction. 

The measure will help some of the most vulnerable residents of the County by:

  • Ensuring that investments provide a disproportionately greater benefit for low-income residents and Communities of Concern;
  • Requiring cities to adopt anti-displacement and affordable housing policies in order to receive measure money, tying housing production and tenants rights to transportation funding (we hope this can be a model for other measures);
  • Providing more free and reduced fares for students, seniors, and people with disabilities;

There’s even more to like about the substance of Measure J. It will:

  • Prioritize projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) in accordance with state climate mandates;
  • Establish an exciting new program for reducing driving, called a “VMT mitigation bank” — the first of its kind in California. Any measure-funded project that does not decrease VMT will have to offset its impacts by funding VMT-reducing projects such as transit, walking, and biking improvements. If this passes in Contra Costa, we believe it will help spur other similar programs across the state;
  • Prioritize safety and access for people who walk, bike, and use public transportation by requiring all roadway funding to abide by new transit, Complete Streets and road safety policies;
  • Create a strong Public Oversight Committee to ensure more accountability and public involvement in the measure’s implementation, including adding four seats for representatives of people with disabilities, transit riders, low-income communities, and climate advocates;
  • Allow Contra Costa County to participate in a state program that will direct millions of dollars in development impact fees to priority conservation projects.

11-15-2019: Deadline for EBRPD endorsement applications

We want to express our profound appreciation to our comrade Whitney Dotson for his 10+ years of service as our elected representative on the East Bay Regional Park District board, representing Ward 1 (West Contra Costa). Whitney, a Parchester Village resident and co-founder of the North Richmond Shoreline Alliance, was consistently endorsed by the RPA and our members actively campaigned for him each time he ran for this office. He has been an outspoken activist for open space preservation and access, especially to marginalized communities. Whitney has announced that he will be stepping down from the EBRPD board at the end of 2019, and we will miss his unrelenting advocacy for social and environmental justice in Richmond and beyond.
Read more

Safe Humane RV Parks

As the Bay Area struggles with a crisis in affordable housing, there has been a spike in people living in vehicles, including recreational vehicles (RVs). As RVs crop up, East Bay cities are looking at various ways to accommodate – or discourage – them.

For example, in June, Mountain View voted to enact several restrictions on motor homes and RVs, including effectively banning overnight parking (from 2-6am) on large motor homes and trailers. Similarly, Palo Alto is requiring people move vehicles on public roads every three days.

Then a few months ago, Berkeley sent shockwaves through the East Bay when it voted to pass an ordinance banning the overnight street parking of RVs, a move that would affect the 200 or so RVs in the city. Facing public outcry, and concern from neighboring Oakland, the city agreed to delay implementation of the ordinance. Now Berkeley is considering allowing a limited number of RVs to stay under a new permitting process, which would prioritize those with special needs, among others. The city has also approached the school district to inquire whether school lots can accommodate RVs for those with children attending schools in Berkeley.

Oakland, in contrast, opened the Bay Area’s first safe parking location for RVs last month as part of a new pilot program. The lot, near the Coliseum, includes security, a site manager, and portable toilets and wash stations. There is plan to bring in mobile shower trucks every week. The site, which will cost $600,000 per year to maintain, is the first of several that the city is considering. The program will allow RVs to park for six months, with the goal of getting people into permanent housing. Not everyone will qualify for the program, however; its is invitation-only for Oakland residents, and people who live in inoperable RVs and those with children under 18 will not qualify.

A similar plan may come to Richmond as well. In October 2018, Richmond Councilmember Melvin Willis introduced an item to instruct the City to study the feasibility of establishing an RV park to accommodate the increasing number of unhoused people living in vehicles. The study has been completed and should be released shortly. The establishment of such a safe and humane RV park in Richmond is one of the priorities of the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s Housing Action Team. According to Daniel Barth (see interview below) such as park "would provide a place to safely park and establish a stable community for the most secure of the city's unsheltered population, which means people living in RVs with their amenities."  

Preventing Evictions = Preventing Homelessness

Many experts believe that one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent homelessness is by preventing evictions.

One tactic for preventing evictions is through emergency grants. East Bay cities, counties and non-profits (such as Catholic Charities of the East Bay) offer eviction prevention funds, some of which are supported by federal Housing and Urban Development grants. Eviction prevention funds may be dedicated to particular populations, such as veterans, single moms with children or disabled people facing the loss of housing. Others are more general and can assist families who are falling behind on their rent. For example, a family may experience a health crisis or the death of a family breadwinner, and face a landlord who does not hesitate to begin eviction proceedings. A grant of a few thousand dollars – perhaps in combination with legal assistance from groups like Bay Area Legal Aid -- can serve as a critical safety net and make difference between housing stability and being out on the street.

Other ways to prevent evictions is through strengthening tenant rights and public policy. In Richmond, Measure L – the rent control and Just Cause for evictions ordinance – has helped keep people in their homes. (It has never been a solution to the lack of affordable housing, as opponents have falsely argued.) But on the state level, these anti-displacement measures have struggled to take hold. A state-wide rent control and just eviction ballot measure failed in 2016 after an intense $80 million lobbying campaign by landlords.

But recently, AB 1482, sponsored by Assemblyman David Chiu (San Francisco) has gained momentum and is advancing to the Senate. “We have millions of Californians that are one rent increase away from being forced out of their homes for decades,” Chiu said in a Los Angeles Times article. “They are our neighbors. They are our co-workers. They are our brothers and sisters. They are our grandmothers.”

Chiu’s bill would limit rent increases to a maximum of the consumer price index plus 7% per year. The bill had originally included a lower rate, but it was raised after push-back from real estate and landlord lobby. It would also only apply to units constructed more than ten year ago, and would phase out after three years. Finally, the legislation has some anti-eviction measures but they are weak compared to those in a companion bill, AB 1481, which stalled this session. Although some housing advocates are not happy with Chiu’s (now watered-down) bill, they are encouraged that some progress is being made.

 

Resources for People Facing Homelessness

Know of someone facing homelessness? Contra Costa County’s Coordinated Outreach Referral, Engagement (C.O.R.E.) program works to engage and stabilize homeless individuals living outside through consistent outreach to facilitate and/or deliver health and basic need services and secure permanent housing.

C.O.R.E. teams serve as an entry point into Contra Costa’s coordinated entry system for unsheltered persons and work to locate, engage, stabilize and house chronically homeless individuals and families. The outreach teams identify individuals living on the streets, assess their housing and service needs, and facilitate connection to shelter and services.

To notify a C.O.R.E. team about an unsheltered homeless individual or family, please call 211. Please note that C.O.R.E. teams are not designed for crisis response. For medical or other emergencies involving homeless individuals, please call 911.

People facing eviction can contact Bay Area Legal Aid, which provides legal help to low-income individuals.

Responding to the Homelessness Crisis

[Graphic: 2019 CCC homeless point in time count.]

The numbers are in, and it's not pretty: homelessness in CCC increased by a shocking 43 percent in the last two years – one of the tragic byproducts of recent skyrocketing rents.

Emergency shelters are one response of course, but there are not nearly enough beds in Contra Costa to fill the need, especially for single adults. A lack of beds means that more people are sleeping on the streets, in cars and in tent encampments. Neil Donovan of the National Coalition for the Homeless calls encampments “America’s de facto waiting room for affordable housing” and notes that “Living in a tent says little about the decisions made by those who dwell within and more about our inability to adequately respond to fellow residents in need.

[Photo: Oakland Housing and Dignity Village, 2018]

Encampments can range from the unorganized and informal to the very intentional. They can be organized by charities, government or residents. Safe, humane RV parks as a transitional solution (article below) describes how Oakland is creating an RV encampment to get people into transitional housing. This is an example of a sanctioned encampment, but many are unsanctioned and therefore potentially illegal. An OpEd by Anita De Asis Miralle, Criminalizing the homeless should not be the solution (below) describes the clashes that can occur when a self-organized, family-oriented – but unsanctioned -- encampment forms.

Daniel Barth of SOS! Richmond argues in favor of government-sanctioned encampments, but ones that are organized, managed and governed by residents in partnership with charities and faith groups. By permitting these encampments, it can increase safety, stability, social cohesion and correct public negative perceptions. Barth stresses that this last element is critical, because “The #1 need for change is our own willingness to see homeless interventions happen in our own neighborhoods – not across town.”

Homelessness in CCC Up 43 Percent in 2 Years

Homelessness in Contra Costa increased by 43 percent in the last few years, according to the county’s latest homeless point in time count conducted in January.  Several nearby counties also reported significant increases in homelessness, a dire sign of the Bay Area's crisis of affordable housing and displacement. The data show that approximately 60 percent of unsheltered people in Contra Costa sleep on the streets, while about 30 percent sleep in cars. Only three percent sleep in warming centers, which are short-term, temporary shelters that operate during winter months.

About 2,000 people lack housing on any given night in the county (the point in time count, conducted in late January, estimated the homeless population to be 2295 people), and waiting lists for shelters are often long. The study showed that while around 68 percent of homeless families can be served by available shelters, only 28 percent of homeless single adults can access shelter beds.

In a KQED interview, Jaime Jenett, a planning manager with Contra Costa Health Services, directly spoke to the problem of skyrocketing rents and stagnant wages for lower income people. "They need affordable housing that is really targeted to low- and very low-income folks," she said. "A lot of the quote-unquote affordable housing is just completely out of reach for the people that we're working with."

While the majority of homeless people are between 25-54 years old, Jenett noted that there is a disturbing increase in the number of older adults without homes.