Redding, California — On November 19, 2019, Mayor Julie Winter of Redding, CA sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom asking him to sign a State of Emergency classification that would allow the city to create a megashelter for homeless people that would essentially operate as a concentration camp. In an interview with Jefferson Public Radio that same week, Winter said, “it’s not a facility you could just leave because you wanted to.” Although all other City Council members signed the letter, when further interviewed, they were unaware of the comments that Mayor Winter had made and distanced themselves from her comments.
The proposed “shelter” has been met with strong resistance from unhoused folks and advocates. In a 2019 report produced by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the idea proposed in Redding was listed as one of the most egregious in the country. Eric Tars, legal director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, questioned the legality of this “solution” put forward, noting it could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Shasta County is home to the town of Redding. The NorCal Point in Time Count data shows Shasta County has 827 unhoused individuals as of 2019, the largest unhoused population among the seven county region. The Carr Fire of last year, which ravaged and burned nearly 1,079 homes, lead to displacement and homelessness for some individuals. This is reflected in the 19.5% increase in homelessness from 2018 to 2019.
Despite the fact homelessness has increased dramatically in Redding, the shelter system capacity has not. Within Shasta County, the largest shelter run by Good News Rescue Mission has the capacity to sleep 307 individuals with more beds for men available. The other shelter option, One SAFE Place, is specific to domestic violence survivors, and it can accommodate up to 50 people. The PIT data shows that over 50% of the population experiencing homelessnes, totaling 434 individuals, are unsheltered. While Mayor Winter’s is calling for the criminalization and incarceration of unhoused folks, Redding and the larger Shasta County needs to re-examine how the system in place is failing people.
The trend of criminalization can be seen beaming from the federal government. Robert Marbut, newly appointed director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, who has pushed for banning free food for homeless people and doesn’t believe housing is the solution to homelessness. After a recent visit to California, Trump threatened he would announce a plan that could include a similar mass-camp for homeless people in L.A. or San Francisco. As seen throughout the nation, politicians across party lines have been pushing to lock homeless people up.
California must flip this narrative and push for solutions rooted in the ideals of housing as a human right. Our state has over 130,000 unhoused individuals, this is a state of emergency, but one that won’t be and can’t be addressed by criminalization. We MUST protect the dignity and human rights of our neighbors are forced to live on the streets.