Outreach, support offered to hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking residents experiencing homelessness

The City of Sacramento’s Department of Community Response recently worked with residents at two homeless encampments who required additional communication support.

One encampment, along Morrison Creek in South Sacramento, was populated mostly by people from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, officials said. The other encampment, near the Pocket Area, consisted largely of people who are deaf or hearing impaired.

Community partners played key roles in the outreach efforts, which included offers of shelter via the City’s motel-voucher program as well as connection to other critical services.

Nearly 40 people were staying in the Morrison Creek encampment, said Theresa Bible, a navigator with Sacramento Steps Forward who coordinated the outreach effort. The site was difficult to access because of the flood-control walls lining the creek. The nearest City access point was more than a mile away.

“We know this encampment has been there for several years,” Bible said. “Different agencies have worked with this group at various times, but this was the first time we know of that several agencies all came together to offer multiple services.”

The outreach team worked with SMUD to gain vehicle access. That allowed Elica Health care to bring out a mobile clinic. Lao Family and Community Development provided interpreters.

It became clear upon visiting the encampment that it had flooded during the late October storm, which saw more than five inches of rain fall on Sacramento. At the time of the outreach, DCR was bringing another motel into its voucher program and a new set of rooms became available.

Mao Yang from Lao Family and Community Development

DCR, with help from the Lao Family and Community Development, was able to place 12 people into motel rooms. In addition to being safe and indoors, the people also have access to organizations that can offer them services.

Mao Yang, from LFCD, said many of the unsheltered residents did not speak English. “Our team members speak Hmong, the primary language they are speaking, so we can help with that,” she explained. “We are also offering free ID vouchers for them.”

The outreach with deaf and hearing-impaired residents began several weeks ago when a young man was involved in a bicycle accident. He needed to go to the hospital, but the EMTs couldn’t communicate with him or his girlfriend because both are deaf.

However, Tony Abshire, one of DCR’s Neighborhood Service Coordinators, knows American Sign Language; he was able to translate as the EMTs cared for the injured man and took him to the hospital.

DCR’s Tony Abshire using sign language to help an unsheltered person who was injured in an bike accident.

Out of that interaction grew additional contact with an encampment of about 25 people, most of them deaf or hearing impaired. Utilizing Abshire’s signing abilities, DCR was able to communicate and make connections with people.

Eventually, nine people from the encampment were placed into motel rooms that had become available. DCR also has reached out to Northern California Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, a non-profit community based organization, for support as well.

Many people at encampments are eligible for Social Security or other support, but they often have trouble connecting to that assistance, said Bridgette Dean, director of DCR. That is why outreach and communication is so important.

“I’m very proud of the work our team did with our partners to build trust with these unsheltered communities and persuade some of them to come inside,” Dean said. “It shows what we can do when we have the resources to offer to people.”

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