Catherine From Capital Public Radio, this is The View From Here podcast.
Catherine I’m Catherine Stifter and this is Place and Privilege, exploring housing affordability in California's capitol.
In this episode, we move to the issue of homelessness in Sacramento. It's a topic that's full of questions with no easy answers. How do people become homeless? And what does it take to get them into stable housing? We hear from two people who found their way out of homelessness in Sacramento.
Jessica Hodges It started off as a lie. We're going camping. We're going to go visit Auntie. We're going to go visit Uncle. We're gonna go visit Granny. And when my son at 9 finally said. Mom do we even have a home anymore because we haven't been there a long time. And. I had to tell him No, but that I was working on it.
John Kraintz When things started to hit the skids I... there just wasn't that much work around. And the work that there was was paying so little, it wasn't going to cover the bills and why work all the time if you can't even maintain a home, even the simplest most inexpensive homes? I come back after I went to go go to the labor agency one day and I came home and my car was gone. And you know there was a 30-year tool collection in that truck. And at that point I guess I just sort of got to the point where I said to hell with you people.
Catherine Stifter John Kraintz lived on the American River after construction jobs dried up. Jessica Hodges and her husband and three kids couch surfed, spent nights in a car or when they could scrape the money together, in a hotel.
They've both been through really tough times and earned a perspective that deserves to be part of this series. Thanks to Joan Burke director of Sacramento's non-profit homeless services organization, Loaves and Fishes for the introductions.
Place and Privilege, Episode 7, After Homelessness
Jessica Hodges Let's see I was in school I was going to college I was working you know and our apartment had mold in it.
Catherine Stifter Jessica Hodges was working full-time, going to school at Kaplan College, living in a Carmichael apartment with her three young children. All of whom were already having health challenges including asthma, partly because all of them were preemies. But the apartment itself made everything worse. When I sat down with Jessica in her apartment it was 105 degrees out and her apartment air conditioning was going full blast.
Jessica Hodges They moved me to a temporary apartment. And in that temporary apartment was the same mold because it's right on the opposite side of my original apartment. So we lost everything. And the judge, the judge said it's in our best interest to move because it was so detrimental to my baby.
Catherine Stifter There's a judge in this story because Jessica's landlord took her to eviction court.
Jessica Hodges Of course it affected everything you know in our life. It affected my school. You know it affected my job. And so I had to make a decision you know do I stay here and fight with these people? Or do I leave because I don't want my baby dead? And so I left. You know it was just easier that way. And so I threw everything away. We couldn't save anything except for some pictures that I had you know zip locked away. Everything other than that we had to throw away because I don't know what mold was there. So it was best for us to not be there.
Jessica Hodges So when you go to court and they give you this you know unlawful detainer that sticks with you. It's like a label it's like a black ball. No matter if you owed, no matter if you were at fault. Just because those papers are filed, that means you’re a liability now. All I wanted to do was be in a safe place. I mean I wasn't expecting the Taj Mahal. I was just expecting to be able to feed my kids. Bathe them in a clean tub and us live.
Jessica Hodges So I graduated from college homeless. I had to walk across that stage and not let anybody know in my graduating class that me and my babies were in a hotel and didn't have anything not even clothes because we had to throw those away too. It's made me stronger. Because I felt like if I could get through those dark days, it's going to be all right one day. I might be homeless, but I'mma be OK. And I that's why I'm speaking because I want to be able to have that at least that hope you know as clichéd as it sounds.
Catherine Stifter For a couple of years, the family stayed with relatives. Jessica says they were couch surfing. From March to November of last year, she either found the money to pay for a hotel room or spent the night in her car. Her kids slept, but she kept watch, hoping they wouldn't be discovered.
Jessica Hodges You know going through it, it was extremely hard emotionally and financially. You know I understand how people can lose their mental health being homeless. And thankfully you know I wasn't one of those. But it can happen so easy. And so since I've learned from it all I can say is I grew from it. It was hard, you know choosing to sleep in a car you know especially with your children you know because poverty turns into crime. You can get your kids taken and all of that. And so I’ve learned that it can happen at any point to any of us. And I've learned that I had to just be diligent in keeping myself away from it keeping myself above it because it's not easy. We're all a couple of paychecks away from it.
Jessica Hodges Homelessness covers soooo many more people. The demographic is everywhere. If you're not in your own home with your name on it and you're sleeping on someone's couch you're really homeless. You can-I mean families are doubled up, tripled up nowadays just to get by. And it shouldn't be that way. It wasn't that way before. You know. People had grandma's houses to fall back on. We had families we could go and stay with, you know. And now it's it's it's dog eat dog. and it's it's it's a lonely feeling to be homeless. You know and when you have people who have mental health issues. As much as it's affected me, I can't even imagine the magnitude of hopelessness that they have.
Jessica Hodges That's why I'm speaking because I have the wherewithal to say something. They don't.
Catherine Stifter Jessica credits Loaves and Fishes, Mary House and the Mustard Seed School for supporting her to find a safe and stable home for her family.
Jessica Hodges They treated it like it was a triage. What do you need? What are your barriers? What's going on? How can we help to solve this for you? And so we ended up in a hotel for 30 days and I did my own leg work to find the place. So they helped me to move in. We were happy, but we were reluctant at the same time because we had been homeless for so long that it didn't feel real. And then when we got here we didn't feel comfortable because it felt like a hotel still like we were going to have to leave. You know don't put your stuff in the drawers because we gonna have to go.
Catherine Stifter During her search for housing, Jessica and her children often ate at the Loaves and Fishes dining room.
Jessica Hodges My kids, they were nervous. They hated going in there to eat because they felt bad. They felt ashamed because to be homeless is shameful. You're taught that it's shameful. I didn't realize how the magnitude of it until I had to deal with my kids just to go in to eat. ‘Mom, I don't want to be around those homeless people.’ I'm not gonna lie, I told them a couple of times. You know you’re homeless, too. You might want to eat and not be so uppity about it right now.
Jessica Hodges My son is a vegan. [laughs] Eight years old and a vegan. And standing in line waiting for a tray at a homeless place. And I'm like sorry he's vegetarian. He'll he'll have the fruit and the salad and the starch but he's not going to eat the meat. The volunteers are looking at us like well how dare you be so picky. And you're homeless. Well, we're allergic to oranges too. You know we're allergic to raw citrus and apples and things like that we're lactose intolerant. So just to go down the line with your children still feeling uppity about the meal was a challenge because regular homeless people, they were like yep yep yep yep yep. All the way down. You want extra? Yes please. Not my children. No I don't want that. No you can keep it. Thank you. They were polite but at the same time they made themselves stand out. And so everybody in the cafeteria over at Mary House and Loaves and Fishes they knew my family. All I could do was usher us along and say OK all right can you please not make a scene today.
Jessica Hodges You know me being homeless I feel like now that I've been through it and I know the path to get out of it. I feel compelled. To tell someone else the path. Because if I don't I would feel personally guilty if something happened to them, if they didn't ever find a path because I could have and I didn't. I would feel like their blood is on my hands and I can't I can't live like that.
Catherine Stifter Jessica and I talked about the concept of this project about affordable housing and the name Place and Privilege.
Jessica Hodges To me privilege boils down to meaning the ability to do something, across the board it doesn't matter what the situation. So no matter what kind of privilege we're talking about because in politics we've had a lot of that flying around you know and I know that's not the subject right now. But, if you have white privilege why not use it for good. Why get mad because somebody says you have it? Say I do? OK. And turn it into a positive. If you're privileged just to be sitting in a home. Be thankful. Turn around. And help somebody else that doesn't have a home the best way you can. You don't have to go buy 'em a home. You don't have to pay their rent. But if you see him sitting on the corner and you don't say to them hey go over there, there's help for you. Then you didn't do your job. Because you were privileged. To have a roof over your head. It is your duty to help others.
Catherine Stifter Jessica Hodges lives in a mold-free apartment in Del Paso Heights with her children and husband of 22 years. She works as a medical office specialist. She is working on buying a home.
Jessica Hodges And as hard as homelessness was I don't regret it because it's grounded me more. It's opened my eyes to other perspectives. It's opened my eyes to the labels that people throw out there just without even a care or a thought behind it. "They're homeless they're worthless." And that is so far from the truth.
John Kraintz I'm John Kraintz, I live in Sacramento. I'm currently the president of an organization called SHOC, Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee.
John Kraintz These days I kind of work with Loaves and Fishes. I used to be more of a guest here, but I've found housing for the time being anyhow. I've been in the same place now for seven years. This is a result of an illness. I got colon cancer. So that created an income for me, because jobs had dried up. Rising cost of housing intersected with falling wage and the two of them collided and wound up creating homelessness so. Probably about 15 years ago, I started to have difficulty with that. And then about seven years ago, I contracted the cancer.
John Kraintz Can't really imagine trying to do the things I need to do to maintain my medical condition by living in a homeless environment. I really need the sanitation of a a bathroom. That's something that just most people take it for granted. But when you don't have one, you have to figure out how you're going to deal with something that you can't avoid. It's not a luxury really but it's that way to a homeless person it's a luxury because they don't have one. And that's very very difficult. It's another thing that they get blamed for a lot, something that they can't help.
John Kraintz I do feel sort of a survivor's guilt myself. It's almost like you know I left a lot of people behind in doing that. I don't know how to change that. I've tried to help some people get into housing. It's very difficult. People that are homeless are generally very timid about doing anything fearing repercussions.
Catherine Stifter Talking with John about his own story, I noticed how he always brings things back to the bigger story of homelessness in Sacramento County. He's part of this community and an organizer. So when I ask him about the problem of homelessness, he turned my question around.
John Kraintz Well, I don't use the word problem very often and I'd rather use the word situation. You know homelessness is one of the few maybe the only crime I can really think of where they punish the victim. And this doesn't seem to be right to me that they should create the problem and then then blame the people who are suffering from the problem instead of instead of trying to solve the root causes of it. And the root cause is simply that there aren't enough jobs around. A whole lot of homeless people that are out here just, they've just given up on trying to find a job. And these people are never counted when they do the unemployment rolls. So that means it's unemployment is an illusion. Now I haven't heard the most recent official count on the homeless and that point in time count they do for HUD. They came up with about 3,000 homeless people.
John Kraintz Now when we talk to the people that issue the food stamps, the food stamp program where they give the food stamps and people who have no way to cook or anything like that which are generally homeless people, is up around 13,000. So this is a pretty big discrepancy. And I personally know a whole bunch of homeless people that never even bother with food stamps. So it's much larger than the 13,000, maybe as high as 20. They don't want to count these people because well frankly to have so many homeless people in a city that's supposed to be so prosperous is an indictment on their inability to be able to run things correctly. And this is what they don't want to admit.
John Kraintz Most of our homeless are pretty timid and and don't really... although we really got ‘em going with our Safe Ground movement. We we probably brought em in 500 strong, to talk to the city council and tell them what they thought about things, to try to empower people to use their government.
Catherine Stifter: Safe Ground is a homeless advocacy group that has been fighting Sacramento's ban on urban camping, which it say unfairly criminalizes homelessness. The group has also pushed for the city to create sanctioned homeless camps, or ‘Safe Ground communities,’ where people can stay legally until they find housing
John Kraintz Our message was pretty much simple. You know, what have you got to lose? If they put you in jail, you've got three hots and a cot, you've got medical care, you've got a television, you've got a shower, you got a bathroom that you can use. If you're homeless, you're laying on the ground and eating out of garbage dumpsters. Now who's treated better? Our convicts or our homeless people? And these homeless people for the most part have committed no crimes and the crimes that they do commit are petty little things that generally are looking for food or just the basic necessities of life. It's not like they're trying to get rich off of crime. So at that point, it's you know, if it is bothering you, that you're treated in this way, come tell 'em about it.
John Kraintz And really it got working well there for a while. But you know a lot of a lot of it behind the homeless is frustration and anger and that's that's hard to maintain in terms of trying to get solutions to things. And that's really what we need to do is is to look for solutions, rather than just just vent anger. This really isn't about anger. This is about trying to do the right thing.
John Kraintz Been down talking to the city council. They're getting tired of hearing from us. I don't go down as much as I used to. I've become frustrated with them, they’re just... it's like they're not going to do anything, so. I don’t know, it's like we've heard it before. It's very hard to get excited about the plan when it's the same line that we've heard before. This situation is growing. I'm not sure it's within their ability to solve this actually. This is something which basically reflects on the structure of our economy. It may be bigger than anything City Hall or even the federal government can do anything about.
Catherine Stifter When it comes to the economic recovery John is pretty skeptical.
John Kraintz I don't think it's nearly as as solid as people are trying to make it sound. I think a lot of people are falling off the bottom of the unemployment rolls and they're no longer being counted, so the unemployment levels are artificial. They're not real. From what I'm seeing it just seems like there's a whole lot more homeless than there used to be.
John Kraintz I think homelessness where it was a condition is rapidly becoming a culture. There's people that have been out there for so many years that they they actually have an elder system out there now where people are they don't really expect to ever find housing again. They're living in the only way they know how. There are people that were literally born on the river. And some of them have found their way off, but they just think this is a normal way to live now. They don't envision that house with the white picket fence or even a studio apartment as being a home. And this is this is a really scary part of it. We're creating a class society.
Catherine Stifter Finish this sentence: we could solve this situation if...
John Kraintz ...we'd stop making greed our priority and try to put people before profit and I'm not saying that people shouldn't be making profit. They should be. That's what makes things work the way our economy is structured. But at some point we have to realize that when we do this degradation to people that there's going to be a clash down the line and your short term gains are not going to deal with the long term payoff that you're going to have to make in the future. It's getting to be scary in that respect, that the lack of respect that we have for other people. I think that that is going to kick back on us in ways we're not even thinking of.
Catherine Stifter Many thanks to John Kraintz and Jessica Hodges for sharing their experiences and thoughts on homelessness in Sacramento.
On the final episode of the Place and Privilege podcast, Cosmo Garvin explores what will it take to solve the crisis of homelessness in Sacramento? One of the people he interviewed is Joan Burke, director of Loaves and Fishes, the homeless services organization:
Joan Burke The number of people who are homeless right now in Sacramento is not infinite but finite. We can help them one-by-one and we can house everyone. It is achievable and I think it's important to remember that so that you do have the resolve.
Catherine Stifter You've been listening to The View From Here podcast.
Place and Privilege. Episode 7, After Homelessness
Produced by Catherine Stifter and Sally Schilling.
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This is The View From Here. From Capital Public Radio.
I’m Catherine Stifter.
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