Tag Archives: unhoused

Governor Newsom on Staying Housed and Staying Healthy

As November approaches, millions of Americans are preparing for the most consequential election of our lifetimes. So much is at stake, and I encourage all Californians who can cast a ballot to take this opportunity to shape the future of our country.

But it’s also a time of dread for people who are having a hard time financially. The first of the month is approaching, and rent is coming due.

If you are struggling to make rent and worried about eviction, know that you are not alone. In the Capitol, we are working hard to help you keep a roof over your head, and there are new resources and protections available to you right now.

Tackling the housing crisis in California has been a priority for me since my first days in office. Access to safe and affordable housing is a cornerstone of the California Dream, one that must stay in reach of all Californians. For decades, the high cost of housing in California has been making it harder for families to get by, much less get ahead. Last year, we took action to help more Californians stay in their homes by enacting the strongest renter protections anywhere in the nation.

But the COVID-19 pandemic presented us with even more challenges. Millions of Californians are potentially facing eviction this fall due to the impact of COVID-19—because they’ve lost jobs or hours, gotten sick or faced new costs like childcare. An eviction or foreclosure is always devastating, but it takes on a new danger amid a pandemic, when having a place to stay home and stay safe is so important.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us, it has not affected all of us equally. The impacts of COVID on lives and livelihoods have had disproportionate impacts on our diverse communities. Census data from July 2020 showed that, of all California renters who had fallen behind on rent, three-quarters were Latino or Black.

In partnership with the Legislature, we passed a bill to help people who had fallen behind on rent if they were impacted economically by COVID.

So if you owe rent from March 2020 through today because you were affected by COVID – if you lost your job, got sick or had your hours cut – you are protected from being evicted if you can take a few simple steps.

Here’s how it works.

If your landlord gives you a notice to “pay or quit” – saying you have a certain amount of time to pay the rent you owe, or you have to move out – but you can’t pay the full amount because you were affected by COVID, you can fill out a document and give it to your landlord.

It is called the Tenant Distress Form, and you can find it on our new HousingIsKey.ca.gov website. It is available in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Sign it and don’t delay. You must give your landlord this document within 15 days after you receive the “pay or quit” notice to be protected from eviction.

You still owe the past rent, but if you cannot pay full rent because of COVID, you can’t get evicted for any rental debt that accrued between March and August of this year.

And so long as you further pay at least 25 percent of the rent due between September of this year and January of next year, then you cannot be evicted for unpaid rent for that period, either.

While this bill will give tenants some room to breathe, it is not permanent. As of now, the protection for evictions lasts only until February 1, 2021.

That’s why we’ve been continuing to advocate for action from the federal government to help protect renters. We have made remarkable progress in helping more Californians keep a roof over their heads during this emergency, but even a state as large and influential as ours cannot tackle a national crisis on our own.

We continue to ask the federal government to help us protect renters and homeowners, as well as other important steps like extending unemployment insurance and fully funding essential services like health, nutrition, education, and childcare. We have also asked for support for state and local governments that are battling COVID-19 and facing difficult choices about their budgets.

Without federal support for renters and homeowners, anyone out of a job, behind on their housing payments, or struggling with medical bills will potentially face the prospect of losing their home. That’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s not good for our economy or communities.

Investing in our renters can make a big difference around the country. It would help stabilize the housing market, help America recover from the devastating economic impacts of the pandemic, and keep people in their homes.

No matter what happens in this election or in D.C., California will keep doing everything in our power to help everyone stay safe, healthy and housed during this crisis – because all Californians deserve a place to call home.

You can find more information about your rights and get access to low- or no-cost legal help at https://lawhelpca.org/


Gavin Newsom is the Governor of California, formerly Lieutenant Governor of California and Mayor of San Francisco. Governor Newsom is married to Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Newsom has been a pioneer on same-sex marriage, gun safety, marijuana, the death penalty, universal health care, access to preschool, technology, criminal justice reform, and the minimum wage, which has led to sweeping changes when his policies were ultimately accepted, embraced, and replicated across the state and nation.

The article is published with permission from the original author

Featured Image by Gage Skidmore.

Community Seva Means Many Things

“I just wanted to say thank you again for the portable charger. I need to keep my phone charged in case my kids need me… You really have no idea how much this helps me out,” says Angel, as a Community Seva volunteer hands over a mobile solar charger to her at a homeless encampment.

To most of us, a dying phone battery is a minor inconvenience with an easy solution – we can just plug it in and go about our day. That simple act is an impossibility for nearly ten thousand unhoused individuals living in the Bay Area. The number of difficulties that they face every day is nearly impossible to comprehend, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these issues. With no access to news media or health guidelines, many unhoused people weren’t even aware of the pandemic for a long time. Already lacking proper healthcare, nutrition, and sanitation, the pandemic has exponentially worsened the lack of access to toilets, water, and fresh food. Beyond the direct risk of infection, which is already much higher for unhoused individuals, they have no shelter to ‘shelter-in-place’, and are left with no ability to even maintain basic hygiene. The homelessness problem is increasing dramatically now that many more people are losing their jobs, and hundreds have been recently forced out of their homes and onto the street.

Healthy burrito given out by Community Seva volunteers.

Community Seva, a non-profit organization based in the Evergreen area of San Jose, has aimed to alleviate some of the struggles that these individuals face. Community Seva’s mission is to “Feed the Hungry & Serve the Homeless”. Since 2013, Community Seva Inc. has served over 150,000 meals, distributed over 7,000 backpacks filled with winter essentials, delivered 6,000 hygiene kits, and given over 1,000 showers to the homeless population in the Bay Area. During the 12 weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic began alone, the organization has served more than 12,000 healthy, nutritious, and freshly-cooked meals to the people living in 7 different shelters, 5 encampments, and even to individuals who have been forced to live in their cars or RVs. The challenges faced by the homeless community are growing, but as Community Seva founder Nathan Ganeshan says, “Together we can, and we are, making a difference!

Nathan Ganeshan delivering food.

Community Seva has launched a new set of initiatives to respond to the recent needs of the homeless community. As members of the homeless community have lost access to places where they could charge their phones due to the shelter-in-place order, they raised funds to purchase and distribute solar power chargers: giving unsheltered individuals the ability to call 911, use flashlights, and thus better protect themselves.

Further, Community Seva Inc. began a new program to help women in these difficult times. They packed and delivered female care hygiene kits to the nearly 3,600 vulnerable homeless women living in the Bay Area. Volunteers entered homeless encampments in an effort to clean up living spaces, throw out trash, and distribute food, hygiene kits, and backpacks with essentials such as blankets, towels, beanies, socks, and rain ponchos. They also distributed Personal Protective Equipment: 400 gloves, masks, and face shields were given to homeless individuals and homeless advocates working on the frontlines. 

None of these achievements would have been possible without the generosity of Community Seva’s supporters. Bay Area businesses such as Jalsa Catering and Events, 8Elements Perfect Indian Cuisine, Bella’s Bar and Grill, Shastha Foods, and Biryani Bowl have donated their time and resources to help provide daily breakfasts and lunches.

Talented musicians, a youth group, and comedians have participated in fundraisers to help with Community Seva’s COVID-19 alleviation efforts. There has been an outpouring of support from the Bay Area community, whether through individual donations from families or corporate grants and sponsorships from Silicon Valley tech giants and other companies.

Community Seva and countless other organizations have stepped up during this time of need: as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” 

Varsha Venkatram is a rising senior at Stanford Online High School. She has been volunteering for Community Seva since 2017 mainly focusing on social media posts, newsletters, articles and image/video management. She has also cooked breakfast, dinner and led youth care bag sevas for the organization.

The Homeless Count In The Census

Reaching into neighborhoods to count the homeless for the census is a formidable task, given that homeless people are a transitory and transient community with no fixed address. But this year, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic makes that undertaking even more challenging, both for census takers at risk of encountering a lethal virus in face-to-face interactions, and for the homeless who  have nowhere to ‘shelter-in-place’.

Where the homeless are

Squirrelled away in locations that make their whereabouts difficult to pinpoint, the homeless are hard to count to begin with. The places they call home rarely have a mailing address. They live under bridges and in  tunnels, in makeshift homes and shacks, and  are not easy to find unless grassroots community sources can account for them. Those who seek homeless shelters, soup kitchens, social services  or city streets are more accessible to enumerators, but the ‘fluid’ nature of their lifestyle can contribute to inaccuracies in the estimate.

Understanding homelessness

Research shows that mounting an accurate count of homeless people is complicated. “Counting the homeless population is extremely difficult because of the lack of a clear definition of homelessness, the mobility of the population, and the cyclical nature of homelessness for many individuals. In addition, homeless people are often reluctant to be interviewed, and many of them remain invisible even to the most diligent of researchers.”

The NIH study reported that attempts to count the homeless in order to extend funds for emergency shelters or  food distribution nationwide has produced data that must be interpreted with great caution because “the everchanging and fluid nature of the homeless population presents great methodological challenges in obtaining an accurate measure of its size. ”

Who counts as homeless?

A key issue is defining who counts as ‘homeless’. The label itself has come under fire from advocates who demand a redefinition what it means to be homeless.

The push-back on the label “homeless,” rises from the complexity of living situations that people experience.

Nonprofit organizations working with the  homeless in San Francisco prefer to use the term ‘unhoused’ because “most individuals experiencing homelessness are doing so because they’ve had one, two, three—or more—strokes of bad luck that led to their current circumstances.” In a study conducted by Stanford professor Thomas Wasow, one participant objected to the term homeless explaining, “ the reason is, ‘I have a home, it’s Palo Alto. I’m unhoused.”

Researchers in the  NIH study also called for better definitions to be developed “concerning who is considered homeless  and defining Subgroups, such as homeless families.

Given this context,  how will the Census Bureau go about the business of  accounting for this marginalized community,  even as in-person outreach efforts are scaled back due to the pandemic?

Revising Outreach Plans to Count the Homeless

An integral part of the Census Bureau’s outreach efforts has been to create a network of local nonprofits and trusted messengers at the grassroots level to administer the enumeration.  For example, in California, the United Way Bay Area (UWBA) is implementing a census outreach initiative called Bay Area Counts 2020 with local non-profits and community partners.

That investment has earned a 63.2 % self-response rate for California (as of July 13), just ahead of the national rate of  62.0%.

However, health and safety concerns with COVID-19 forced the Census Bureau to delay counting people experiencing homelessness in the 2020 Census.  But, in renewed operations  scheduled between September 22 and 24, the Census Bureau is adjusting its operations for vulnerable, homeless and transient communities.

The Census Bureau is coordinating with local service providers and consulting with advocacy groups and other stakeholders to adjust its approach and boost outreach into this hard-to-reach population in response to COVID-19. Census takers will follow the latest local public health guidance regarding the use of personal protective equipment and social distancing.

The Census Bureau now plans to send specially trained census takers to count people at shelters, service providers and locations which the Census Bureau has identified as places where people are known to sleep. They will also work with local groups to identify these locations.

Census takers will count people in person at previously identified potential outdoor locations such as under bridges, parks, wooded areas, designated beach areas, tent cities, alleys, and under highway systems as well as  all-night businesses ( transit stations and 24-hour laundromats).

They will obtain data from emergency and transitional shelters with sleeping facilities for people to stay overnight,  such as “missions, hotels and motels used as shelters, and places for children experiencing homelessness, neglected,  or who have run away from home. Census takers will work with the administrators at different service provider locations including soup kitchens and regularly scheduled mobile food vans, to utilize rosters to ensure a complete count of this population.

People experiencing homelessness will be counted where they are staying when census takers visit between September 22-24. People experiencing homelessness who are not counted in households or other operations will be counted where they stay or receive services when census takers visit.

In its message to shore up support for the homeless count, the Census Bureau reiterates, “Census statistics are crucial to programs and service providers that support people experiencing homelessness. A complete and accurate 2020 Census can ultimately help organizations provide better services, more food and improved shelter options to those in need.”

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents


Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.

 

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Photo by Adam Thomas on Unsplash