A social worker by profession, Fatemah Martinez founded South Sacramento HART (Homeless Assistance Resource Team) seven years ago to help people identify tangible housing goals and connect them to needed resources.
“Being a lifetime resident of South Sacramento, I’ve seen the face of homelessness change,” Ms. Martinez shared. “People living on sidewalks and in parking lots. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life in these neighborhoods. It’s shocking.”
After working in areas like Folsom, Citrus Heights, Carmichael and Elk Grove, Ms. Martinez wanted to “do something in my own community.”
She was an early supporter of neighborhood shelters, an idea that was initially met with backlash.
“I was disgusted that my fellow community members, a lot of whom were people of color, would stand up in a meeting and say words like ‘we don’t want those people in our community.’ Words that could really be translated to, ‘We don’t want Blacks in our community. We don’t want Hispanics. We don’t want felons.’ I was disgusted to see people in my community and the neighborhood associations display that kind of behavior,” she shared.
For her part, Ms. Martinez keeps clothing in her car in case she encounters someone in need. Her team of volunteers hands out basic necessities at encampments and parks. Before COVID-19, she drove carloads of people to the DMV or the welfare office to handle business. During the pandemic, she’s battled red tape to get folks into programs.
While the work takes her to the streets, Ms. Martinez also pays attention to what’s happening at City Hall and in the County Board of Supervisors’ chambers.
“When there’s decisions being made, there’s a lack of input from community members as well as service providers that service the community,” she said.
While meetings are currently closed to the public, it’s important, she says, to still keep a watchful eye on what’s coming down the pipeline.
“Right now, they’re making decisions, policy-wise, on things that are going to happen in the next five to 10 years, so if we’re not at the forefront of that decision-making, then we’re not going to see anything happen,” she said.
Well beyond the crisis stage, there are a number of groups working on the behalf of the unhoused.
“We’re all trying to support each other,” Ms. Martinez said.
“There’s no one ‘best way’,” she adds. “Sometimes, like they say, you’ve got to throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks. in a minute it’s going to be like the Bay Area and other places and it’s going to be too big for us to deal with.”
Advocates have brought awareness to encampments being busted up, but Ms. Martinez says attention should also be paid to how affordable housing complexes are coming down as well. Residents are assured that they can return, she says, but when the time comes for officials to make good on that promise, they often face exclusionary policies. Hidden agendas, she shares, aren’t all that hidden, however.
“When they build places for people with meager means like us, they don’t put in light rails. They don’t put in grocery stores. They don’t put in high rise apartments. So when they start building infrastructure, that’ll tell you where your place in society is,” she said.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
The Sacramento OBSERVER introduces a special series, “Sistahs on the Frontlines,” acknowledging and highlighting the work that Black women are doing as “essential workers” on the frontlines, furthering the causes of the community. READ MORE