Homeless Action! promotes Homeless Bill of Rights

The Living Room in Santa Rosa offers resources and counseling for homeless women and children.

Craig Gettman

The Living Room in Santa Rosa offers resources and counseling for homeless women and children.

Maci Martell, Assistant News Editor

Members of the grassroots organization Homeless Action! are calling on Santa Rosa Junior College students and clubs to help the Northern California homeless population gain basic human rights through support, education and activism.

Homeless Action! members Adrienne Lauby and Charlene Love attended SRJC’s Inter-Club Council (ICC) meeting on Feb. 25, to present the Western Regional Advocacy Project’s (WRAP) Homeless Bill of Rights campaign to club representatives.

Leaders from various non-profit organizations created the grassroots movement WRAP in 2005 to combat homelessness all along the west coast through advocacy and community organizing. According to Lauby, WRAP has been trying to pass the bill for homeless rights through the legislature for nearly three years.

The Homeless Bill of Rights will establish basic rights for the homeless and prohibit law enforcement from violating those rights.

According to the last Sonoma County Homeless Census & Survey in 2013, there were a total of 4,280 homeless people in Sonoma County alone. The survey also stated that only 971 of the total homeless population were sheltered.

Lauby and Love said they want to encourage involvement from SRJC students to advocate for homeless rights and educate the community on homeless issues.

Among the solutions Lauby and Love presented to the ICC are establishing sanitation stations for the homeless to maintain basic hygiene, and to encourage homeless encampments, which are decreasing due to increasingly strict vagrancy laws.

“The homeless are being criminalized for things people do every day and take for granted. Everyone needs to eat, sleep and wash,” Lauby said.

Love, an SRJC horticulture and agriculture student, previously experienced homelessness and lived in The Living Room, a Santa Rosa shelter, before joining Homeless Action! in the summer.

Before moving to Sonoma County, Love lived in Los Angeles where she said the people were cold and the conditions of the large shelters were far from the comfort of home.

“If you really want to see pure despair and filth and homelessness, go to downtown L.A. to San Julian,” Love said, reflecting on the crowded streets of Skid Row.

Love described some of the shelters as warehouses with rows of bunk beds, reminiscent of army barracks. The large room, crowded with about 20 people, was cold and dirty. Huddled on the lumpy, unwashed cots, one young woman tried to focus on her studies amidst the ranting of the other housemates and another woman dealt with meth withdrawals, Love said.

With so many homeless people in California and all the various factors contributing to homelessness, Love mentioned the importance of addressing individual needs instead of just having large shelters that don’t help with the root of the problem.

Love noted the struggles of being homeless and the misconceptions they face every day. “First of all, it hurts. It truly hurts,” she said. “When one experiences a death, they get sympathy. When you experience a loss of health, loss of eyesight, a limb…you get ‘Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. What can I do?’ When you lose your place to live, you’re trash. You’re a bum. You’re hopeless. Regardless of what happened to get you there.”

What Love and Lauby want to do to cultivate a better understanding of homeless struggles is compile a report stating how many SRJC students are homeless or at risk of being homeless and what are the students’ general perceptions of the homeless.

Homeless Action! would also like to collaborate with SRJC clubs like Tiny House Club and Architecture Club to develop affordable and sustainable housing alternatives to shelter the homeless.

Lauby said getting the Homeless Bill of Rights passed will require talking with the California legislature and pushing them to make homeless rights a priority.

“I think we have gotten to a tipping point with the high cost of living where people are starting to realize that homelessness can happen to anyone, so more people are in support of low-income housing and are aware of homeless issues,” Lauby said.

With the rise in criminalization of homelessness, it is becoming more important to decrease the stigma against the homeless and provide solutions to their current circumstances. With the support of SRJC students and clubs, Homeless Action! plans to accomplish these goals.

WRAP’s Homeless Bill of Rights can be found at: http://wraphome.org/images/stories/hbr/HBRCpaignFactSheetrev1.6.15.pdf.