A Letter from LeRoy Chatfield

Former Executive Director and Legacy Leader, LeRoy Chatfield writes about his years of experience fighting for poverty justice and the work that still continues.

Dear Loaves & Fishes Friends, Supporters & Volunteers,

I write this letter  on my 86th birthday to bring to your attention what I consider to be a humanitarian crisis and a grave social injustice that plagues our entire Sacramento community – more than  6,000 residents have to live on our streets, in their cars, along the edges of the railroad right-of-ways and along the banks of the Sacramento and American rivers.

I am not talking about “the homeless” in the abstract, I am talking about families, men, women and children whose only human “mistake” is they do not  – did not – earn enough money to afford 2020 rents in Sacramento.

For those who had a job, it paid only minimum wage, for those now laid off because of the Pandemic, they no longer receive unemployment, for those who are qualified to receive Social Security Disability, the monthly stipend is not enough to meet the rent, the list goes on, each person or family compelled to live outside on the street has their own reason – but the bottom line is always the same: they cannot earn enough money to pay market rate rents.

If employers cannot pay a living wage that will include enough money for rent, then it falls to our City and County elected officials to insure that enough low cost affordable housing is built so that low wage workers and their families are properly housed.  Yes, that is the way it is supposed to work, but I assure it does not work that way for minimum wage workers in Sacramento. Our local government elected leaders do not support building very low cost housing that  the poor, the disabled, and  low wage workers  can afford to rent.

In my book: To Serve The PeopleMy Life Organizing With Cesar And The Poor, I wrote:

“Local government – not unlike business profit employers – considers minimum-wage working people to be relatively worthless. Truth be told, such people are considered to be a drag on the local economy, a negative influence on a desirable quality of life for the rest of the community, and insatiable consumers of social services.

Does this sound harsh and unfairly critical of local government? Yes, I’m sure it does. Is it true? Let me assure you, it is. Permit me to qualify; it is true here in the capital city of the state of California.

Understandably, no local elected government official talks publicly about these harsh realities. There is no need to talk; their policies say it all. Some examples: many hundreds of affordable housing units were razed in the downtown area to lay the groundwork for a more desirable major league high-rise future; its own housing agency was forbidden to bring low-cost housing proposals forward for consideration; NIMBYism has been deliberately fostered in order to bury housing advocates and nonprofit developers; zoning codes were used to impede the development of affordable housing; and punitive special-use permits mandated astronomically expensive building requirements for midtown low-income housing. Dare I describe such policies as “cleansing”?”

There are no religious or moral tenets that we profess to believe and live by that permit us to stand by silent and complicit as our elected leaders refuse to build quality and well managed low-cost housing to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in our Sacramento community.

In my view – based on 25-years of experience –  our elected leaders seem to believe that people who have money are deemed to be moral and worthy citizens; those who do not are immoral and unworthy, and worse yet, unwelcome. These views are antithetical to and a corruption  of our cultural Judeo-Christian heritage, which holds that because God created each person in His own image and likeness, each person is not only good in the eyes of his Creator but also a recipient of His unconditional love.

I leave you with this thought: The only difference between me and a homeless person in Sacramento is I live in a house, my homeless counterpart does not. Those of us who live in a house need to insure that each and every person in our community is given that same opportunity.

I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones to be safe and in good health.

LeRoy Chatfield

(Loaves & Fishes tenure: executive director; board member; golden day project; fund raiser; friendship park homeless breakfast program.)

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