A Brief Personal History of Organizing Unhoused People in Sacramento

Follow Sacramento Loaves & Fishes former Executive Director, Tim Brown, as he shares his organizing history for homeless advocacy in Sacramento. This is Part I of a multi-part story share.

Written by Tim Brown

Part I. 1980-1995

I moved from San Diego to Sacramento in 1982 to attend the Graduate School of Social Work at Sacramento State with a focus on Community Organizing. From 1979 to 1980 I had served as a Peace Corp/VISTA Volunteer for the San Diego Housing Coalition. I can tell you that in 1980 we did not have homelessness as we have it today. Not until Ronald Reagan became president and shifted (with congressional approval) 75% of the federal housing budget into the military budget. My mentors at the Housing Coalition warned that in ten years we could have depression era numbers of homeless families, and they were right.

Over the next two years I worked in downtown San Diego helping people who lived in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels, an important cheap housing resource that was fast disappearing. I began to see my clients and others become homeless due to rising rents and few low-income housing opportunities. The same was happening in Sacramento and in big cities across the U.S.

Big developers subsidized by Urban Redevelopment replaced the SRO hotels with high end uses. By the time I moved here there were hundreds of homeless people, many displaced by the redevelopment of Old Town and Downtown.

There were obviously other factors contributing to the growth of homelessness: changes in family stability, the loss of well paying union jobs in the industrial midwest, VietNam Veterans dealing with war trauma, to just name a few. However, at its core, modern homelessness is about the affordability and accessibility of housing.

In 1983, after spending the summer in Nicaragua learning Spanish, I became the Director of the Central America Action Committee (CAAC) in Sacramento, organizing to stop the Reagan Administration from creating another Vietnam War in Central America. It was around the time Loaves & Fishes was started, I met Chris and Dan Delany, the founders. From 1983 to 1986 we were leaders in organizing protests and non-violent, civil disobedience actions, mostly aimed at the Federal Building in Sacramento.

Dan and Chris had been involved in countless peace, anti-nuclear and anti-poverty protests before I met them and were contemporaries of Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan. We were arrested together along with up to sixty local activists maybe fifteen times in pursuit of peace in Central America. Dan and Chris Delany introduced me to Bob Sieber who was a VietNam veteran and helicopter pilot who had spent time in jail with Daniel Berrigan.

In 1986 Bob Sieber organized homeless people, who were mostly men, to camp out at the Sacramento County Administration Building. This protest for more shelter and services to people suffering from homelessness, started with a few  and grew to over a hundred people over a six month period. Despite growing numbers of homeless people in Sacramento, the City and County ignored the problem saying there were enough shelter beds, but shelters were full with long waiting lists.

Bob’s camp out led to some additional shelter beds and he was given local funding through Transitional Living and Community Services (TLCS) to start the Poverty Resistance Center (PRC) in a building at 20th and D Streets. I joined his board of directors that year and started organizing for more shelter, services and housing for the growing homeless population. At this time, Loaves & Fishes was focused on offering a hearty and warm meal and the PRC was a place to come inside during the day and work with a team that offered support in locating resources and advocacy. 

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