Hunger Action Day in California

By Karla Vasquez 5-22-2013
Image via Karla Vasquez
Image via Karla Vasquez

Where there is hope, there is future.

Today is Hunger Action Day.

For many in my beloved Golden State, today will go unnoticed. It will be what it always is — a Wednesday full of its special nuances with perhaps homework, meals and snacks, pleasant weather, and most definitely, a dose of stressful traffic. It will be normal. Life will be as it always is. For others however, myself included, this is the day we have been waiting for. In fact, you could even say, that this is the day we’ve been hungry for.

More than 300 California residents from all around the state — from the beach towns to the gritty parts of the city — have committed their day, their energy, and their hearts to visiting with their representatives to advocate for their neighbors and friends who every day face hunger. To these few hundred residents who have taken the time to journey to Sacramento, the opportunities that today provide could be life changing for thousands.

Adelita Chavez, a 63 year-old native of Los Angeles, is one of those people excited for the potential of Hunger Action Day. She is advocating today in support of Assembly Bill 5, better known as the “Homeless Bill of Rights.” Because of gentrification in California’s cities, there have been many oversights in the treatment of the homeless community. They are often harassed or arrested by law enforcement for sleeping, resting, or even talking to a fellow homeless neighbor.

This bill, proposed by Assemblyman Tom Amminano, would protect homeless people’s rights to shelter, housing, medical care, and life-sustaining activities such as sleeping, resting, or congregating on public property. The bill would also protect homeless schoolchildren and their right to school supplies necessary for academic success.

“So many who are homeless commit suicide because they feel they have nothing left to live for. I am here so that doesn’t happen,” Chavez said. She described her process of involvement as a long road that opened her eyes immensely. When she was a single mother of four children working several jobs, she benefited from social programs like CalFresh and CalWorks, which were crucial in helping her obtain her GED and begin her career in the cosmetic surgeon field. “I ner thought of how much I benefited from the programs. I couldn’t have survived without them.”

Senate Bill 283 has also brought advocates to the table in Sacramento. Currently, California is one of 15 states that has a lifetime ban on people with certain drug felonies from ever getting benefits like CalFresh or CalWorks. Eric Ares, a community organizer from Los Angeles Community Action Network (L.A.CAN) said he often hears of members who paid their dues for their drug crime and still are unable to receive food assistance 20 or 30 years later.

Phyllis Story, case manager at non-profit Shields for Families, was one of those people who never received food assistance. In the late 1990s Story, or Miss Phyllis as she is commonly referred to by her community members, was shut out by her family and resources. She was a single mom of seven children, all of whom were taken from her custody at one point. With the help of Shields for Families, she was able to right her wrongs and rehabilitate. She received job training, became clean and sober, and even regained custody of all seven of her children – but even then, with seven other mouths to feed, she was never granted assistance.

“What I see is people trying to do right, but the way we criminalize poverty, all we have is a revolving door of people coming in and out of treatment,” Story said.

To the advocates who are here in Sacramento today, the passing of these bills would mean the difference between the detriment and the livelihood of their neighbors and friends. Nevertheless, they smile, they sing, they laugh, and they lobby knowing that no matter the consequences, positive or negative, they have hope. And where there is hope, there is future.

Karla Vasquez is a former Mobilizing Assistant for Sojourners.

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