Action At Last
A plan for homeless, but where’s enforcement?
By Jeff Harris
Every crisis needs a solution. Every solution needs a plan. Homelessness plagues our city, especially since the pandemic and calamities of methamphetamine and opioid addiction.
Against this background, Sacramento Steps Forward recently held a conference titled “All In” to unveil the Local Homeless Action Plan. It’s a regional blueprint for resources and a collaborative, cohesive approach to the crisis.
The event provided insight into the challenges of moving people off our streets and away from the American River Parkway. How to use limited resources more effectively was also discussed.
The action plan contains targets for numbers of people served, housing production and service provisions. It’s an important acknowledgement that the burdens of homelessness must be shared by the county and city.
Drug addiction and mental illness are major contributors to the problem. Now there’s a realistic discussion about the types of housing required, along with the costs of permanent supportive and interim housing, plus shelter beds in triage centers.
What does all this mean? Will we soon see major reductions in homelessness? Unlikely. But the action plan means progress will accelerate over time. Two new initiatives:
Crisis Receiving Behavioral Health Center—Addresses acute addiction and behavioral health. WellSpace, the city’s department of community response and I started this program three years ago. The county is on board and will fund expansion.
Coordinated Access—Organizes service providers so they don’t compete. Resources and data are shared. Available bed space and housing stock updates are available to providers. County Supervisor Rich Desmond and I borrowed this idea from Haven for Hope in San Antonio and secured funds from the city and county. Coordination is critical to the action plan and is finally becoming a reality.
What happens in the meantime? Our city is still a mess with crime, filth and debris, and impeded access on sidewalks. The American River Parkway faces severe ecological stress. Businesses are closing. All due to homelessness. What can be done in the short term?
Enforcement is one answer, but too few elected officials are willing to use it. Enforcement is a political hot potato. But we must enforce rules to keep our city livable as we make progress in housing.
We will never have enough beds for everyone living outdoors. Although we offer more services to homeless people, no encampment should be allowed to become entrenched or grow too large. Negative effects are dire. Camps place severe stress on neighborhoods and generate crime.
Here’s the balancing act. Let’s be compassionate and offer help, but firm in disallowing egregious behavior.
Citizens are rightfully angered by lenient policies the City Council adopted around enforcement. The sidewalk and school proximity ordinances were good efforts, but the political will to enforce them is weak.
The City Council has been tone-deaf to the needs of the community. Citizens know we can be compassionate and clean up our city at the same time.
The action plan is a good program that will bring results over time. But we can’t wait for those results while our city degrades. It takes the homeless action plan and strong enforcement measures to keep Sacramento intact.
Read the action plan at sacramentostepsforward.org.
Jeff Harris represented District 3 on the City Council from 2014 to 2022. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.