James ‘Faygo’ Clark, homelessness advocate
A discussion on homelessness in Sacramento and more with James “Faygo” Clark
James “Faygo” Clark is one of Sacramento's leading social-justice activists. Last summer, when dozens of protesters shut down south Sacramento's Nestlé water-bottling plant, he was there at the corporation's front gates. And every Tuesday night when volunteers feed the hungry out in front of City Hall before council meetings, Clark is there, too, risking arrest by giving food to those in need. The Occupy Sacramento veteran is also homeless himself. He spends most mornings looking for food, but joined SN&R for breakfast on a recent Tuesday to discuss what it's like trying to impact social change while living on the streets.
Are you unfairly harassed as a homeless man in Sacramento?
Since I've become more active, the cops leave me alone a lot more.
How many times have you been cited?
I've lost count of that number. Camping, light-rail tickets—so you can actually access all the services around town—I've had a couple drinking-in-publics way back in the day. And I've been arrested way too many times.
Did you ever deserve being arrested?
There's been a couple, when I was younger, when I was doing stupid stuff. But over homeless-related stuff, nah. All I'm doing is existing. What the heck?
How long have you been on the streets?
Off and on, a good portion of my life. I spent some time as a juvenile on the streets, too. Since about '04.
What’s the biggest obstacle to obtaining housing?
For me, I don't want to work a corporate job, and I don't want to a job that hurts other people, or damages the environment. … That's my personal issue. But for a lot of other people, it's either not being able to get a job or, when they get their Social Security, not being able to afford rent. And then there's also a prejudice against people who are homeless when it comes to housing.
That homeless people are drunk and on drugs.
Sometimes I drink, but I try not to make a big habit about it. … I try not to be the drunken crazy guy out in the street, because that's everywhere. Even the people that are new to the streets end up falling into it because of different issues. I did fall into it for a long time, but I kind of pulled myself out.
In the past 10 years, how has homelessness changed?
I'd say it's definitely trending in the wrong direction. For one, the continued criminalization is an issue. There's also the problem of low-income housing. And also there's a boom in youth … and there's just not that many jobs for them.
I do see some steps that are being taken, mostly at the federal level with the housing-first programs, where they're reallocating funding from temporary or transitional housing to housing first.
What are you reading these days?
I've been doing a lot of research on Nestlé, again, finding stuff about them. About the baby-formula scandal over in Africa: Basically, [Nestlé] went over there and started pumping water in villages in Africa, that are impoverished, and started selling infant formula and weened a bunch of mothers off using breast milk. … So now, not only did Nestlé drain the water supply, but people can't afford the formula. So kids got malnourished or got sick from contaminated water, and ended up dying.
When did you start using the name Faygo?
That was 2002-ish. I used to listen to a lot of [Insane Clown Posse] and then go around with one of the Faygo shirts … and I'd just go up to people and say “Faygo, drink it!” … I still go by it, because that's the name that people gave me.
How easy is it to get Internet when you’re homeless?
It's spotty. For the most part, you have to buy something somewhere. Or find free Wi-Fi somewhere. It's iffy. But I've been pretty lucky.
You mentioned that you had to go find food this morning. Do you have SSI, any income?
I receive no government aid at all. So, I usually either end up holding a sign in the morning, that basically says “Non-GMO food, please.” Or I go out at night and do a little busking, whether it's telling jokes or trying to sound good playing my recorder.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I don't see myself leaving Sacramento any time soon. I guess I kind of put where I will be in five years on where the movement will be.
What one issue would you like to see discussed during next year’s presidential election?
Police militarization. Because it's something that truly does affect everyone.
Do you think you will be living homeless forever?
I could see myself in the next five years not being homeless. But it kind of just depends on where things are going with the movement, if I have time to worry about getting myself off the streets, or if I feel like I need to keep moving forward with things that affect other people, too.