A Program Designed to Assist Homeless People Turned Her Out Instead
During Jessica Gilbert’s seventh month of pregnancy, she was living in housing provided by Sacramento Self Help Housing and preparing as best she could for the imminent arrival of her baby.
Until that is, the homeless housing program illegally evicted her. On what grounds, you may be wondering. According to the people who pushed her out onto the streets, a major factor was her “spending too much time in the bathroom.”
Again, at this time, Gilbert was a heavily pregnant woman- a group that famously has to pee with incredible frequency. And since when is that a reason to evict someone anyway?
The answer is it’s not. The Sacramento Homeless Union has filed a case on Gilbert’s behalf in Sacramento Superior Court due to this unlawful eviction and potential pregnancy discrimination, which is illegal in California.
A Closer Look at Complaints
Several factors are cited in Gilbert’s notice of immediate eviction, and none warrant the punishment of being pushed out onto the street to give birth in a tent. In fact, most of them boil down to the house rules of an overly controlling parent or perhaps the plot of a Gremlins movie.
Gilbert is said to be guilty of such heinous crimes as leaving the doors unlocked after hours, letting her cat out without a leash, allegedly taking other people’s food, and using the dryer or cooking after midnight.
Most of us have dealt with a roommate worse than that and managed to navigate the situation without illegally forcing them into unsheltered homelessness. Apparently, this level of interpersonal conflict resolution is beyond the capacity of everyone at Sacramento Self Help Housing.
When she refused to leave, she was physically exited from the home under threat of police involvement.
Heartless Homeless’ Helpers’
This situation shows that not every organization claiming to help homeless people can be trusted. This is a sad fact that people who have experienced homelessness have known for a long time. But it doesn’t often occur to people who have always been housed.
This kind of job or volunteer position tends to attract two types of people:
- Those who genuinely want to do what they can to help out their fellow humans in a time of need, and
- Those who want to exercise power over someone who usually can’t fight back, all while getting pats on the back for being such a good person
I’ve written before about how much harm the latter types can cause before they’re found out and ousted- if that ever happens.
Anyone with a heart could look at this situation compassionately and think, “What is the path of least suffering here? For Jessica’s roommates to occasionally have to hear the dryer after midnight, or for a pregnant woman to give birth and undergo recovery with her baby without housing?”
It takes a lot of desensitization to the plight of your fellow humans to start to see this overly punitive approach as appropriate in any way. I can just hear the evictee smugly saying, “well, technically, she chose to break the rules, so if you think about it, she’s the one evicting herself,” before completely absolving themselves of any responsibility or guilt.
Meanwhile, by the time Gilbert reaches her eighth month of pregnancy, she is sleeping outside with her baby swing and the rest of her possessions. Her car was towed shortly after her eviction, her cat was lost, and even her tent had been stolen. All her belongings are soaked from a recent rainstorm, and she could go into labor at any moment.
This Is Not A Unique Story
Kicking a pregnant woman out of housing just before she’s due to give birth is such a wholly inhumane move that you’d think it was uncommon. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In fact, this isn’t even the first time that this exact situation has happened to the same woman.
In October 2021, Jessica Gilbert was staying in Motel 6 in Sacramento, utilizing the city’s motel voucher program. She returned to her room one night to find that her key card had been deactivated and her possessions removed.
There was no communication from the motel as to why this had happened. Three days after this illegal eviction, Gilbert gave birth by c-section and was forced to attempt to recover from this major abdominal surgery while living in her car. CPS took the child, and Gilbert has been fighting for reunification with him, but it’s a hard case to make without access to stable housing.
Sacramento Self Help Housing Is Helping Itself
SSHH is a nonprofit organization that the City of Sacramento has relied heavily on to fill the gaps in its housing policies. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact number since SSHH has yet to submit an audit since 2018. But we know the city is paying the nonprofit at least $245,000 for its 145 beds. That’s about $1,689 per slot, enough to rent a regular studio or one-bedroom apartment in the city.
The contract also includes services like operating a hotline designed to inform tenants of their rights, which is a bit rich considering the number of questionable evictions SSHH has performed in the last five years, as well as its substandard housing conditions in several units. (One tenant recently settled with SSHH after suing them over a severe rat infestation in their home.)
As rates of homelessness have risen in the city of Sacramento, so has SSHH’s annual revenue, rising from $2 million in 2015 to $14.5 million in 2020. Very few details are available to the public about how this money is used, but you have to wonder who exactly they’re out to help since it clearly isn’t the unhoused people they keep evicting.