Sacramento group amplifies voice of the homeless

Committee on Self-Development of People supports ‘substantive’ work

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee (SHOC) is known for organizing rallies and marches to draw attention to issues of importance to the unhoused. (Photo courtesy of SHOC)

LOUISVILLE — The Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee knows what it’s like to live on the margins.

The organizing committee, which has a longstanding relationship with the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, is made up of people who are formerly or currently homeless as well as supporters.

The organization, also known as SHOC, is valuable to the community because it “tries to give the homeless a voice so that there’s some kind of feedback as to what’s really happening on the ground level,” said John Kraintz, board president.

Through 40 years of advocacy work, SHOC has become widely known locally “as the group that organizes rallies and marches involving those who are unhoused and for the issues they wish to address,” said Paula Lomazzi, the committee’s director.

However, it also fills many other roles in its quest to help improve the lives and living conditions of homeless in California’s capital city, which is located at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers.

“I don’t know how it works in other cities, but in this one, they just try to keep the homeless out of sight and out of mind,” said Kraintz, who was previously homeless.

SHOC counters that kind of thinking through platforms like its Homeward Street Journal, a street newspaper that raises awareness about homeless issues and social justice issues.

Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee produces a newspaper called the Homeward Street Journal. It helps to raise awareness about social justice issues, including problems facing the homeless. (Photo courtesy of SHOC)

“We have the newspaper as a vehicle to give out information about our issues and (to serve as) a voice for people who are homeless or formerly homeless to express themselves,” Lomazzi said.

“I think we did a really good job over the years of helping to bring attention to homelessness, but of course, the growing number of homeless did that, too,” she said.

A survey last year found that on any given night Sacramento had about 5,570 homeless people, an estimated 19 percent increase from 2017.

“There’s building going on everywhere in town, lots of skyscrapers going up with housing, but none of it’s going to be affordable,” said Kraintz, adding that wages haven’t kept pace with the high cost of rent in Sacramento, calculated by one source at $1,438 per month for the average apartment.

Homeless people often are “demonized” as if homelessness is all their fault, he said, but “many of them would jump at the chance to get a place to live in,” he said. “It’s just not there, and we’re not building it.”

Prior to the pandemic, SHOC had a way for people to earn money by selling newspapers through its vendor program. Homeless and nearly homeless participants would get bundles of papers and sell the Journal at public places.

That program is on hold due to the pandemic, but the paper continues to be distributed in other ways, such as through homeless outreach work.

SHOC also works collaboratively on various issues with other area groups, including the Western Regional Advocacy Project and the Sacramento Poor People’s Campaign. It is currently participating in an anti-sweeps campaign.

Authorities have “a habit of making homeless people move, and then there’s no place to move to,” Lomazzi said.

In addition to fighting that, SHOC has been an incubator, starting various spin-off groups such as Safe Ground Sacramento. It also helped raise local awareness about national issues, such as the importance of participating in the U.S. Census and the 2020 election.

“We are relied upon to conduct voter registration at Loaves & Fishes, a multi-services complex that serves up to 600 meals per day and where our office is located,” Lomazzi said. “Our voter registration outreach is very important, especially since many do not get mail regularly delivered to them and they are not always connected to news sources that housed people take for granted. We help some people who have never voted before.”

The Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee (SHOC) has advocated for the homeless for 40 years in California’s capital city. (Photo courtesy of SHOC)

SDOP recently awarded SHOC a $16,000 grant to help with its general operations because it is doing powerful work, said the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, SDOP coordinator.

SHOC “is worthy to partner with because they are wrestling with the complex issues of homelessness and they are engaged,” Johnson said. “It is also an organization who believes in people power; they believe that the community has power and effectivity in actually doing something substantive” to make a difference.

Johnson added: “Especially in a time of COVID-19, the issues centered around homelessness are immediate and this group is poised to be involved in healing and wholeness in such a time as this.”

The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People is supported by One Great Hour of Sharing. It is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.


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