Steinberg may fail, but at least he’s trying
By Gary Delsohn
It’s a refrain I hear a lot these days, especially when I’m cycling along the American River or through the center of our troubled city.
“Steinberg ran on a promise to fix the homeless problem and it’s only gotten worse. He’s wasted time, money and energy, and there’s more garbage and encampments everywhere. What a failure.”
Now Mayor Darrell Steinberg has put forward his latest plan to attack our chronic homelessness problem—his “Housing Right and Obligation Act.” It’s generating even more heat.
The plan is built on the premise that most homeless people want shelter. The city would presumably build enough housing for an estimated 11,000 homeless people and offer two options to those sleeping outside—permanent housing, or temporary shelter in tents, RVs, trailers or so-called tiny homes at city-approved locations.
If you’re homeless and camping in the city and refuse both options, authorities could move you. Where you would go is not clear, but the plan is a work-around on a court ruling restricting the ability of cities to enforce anti-camping laws without enough shelter beds to accommodate homeless populations.
I’ve known the mayor for more than 20 years. Agree with him or not, he entered public service for the right reasons. He wanted to help people who usually have no one in their corner. The down-and-outers. People with mental health problems. The disenfranchised.
Most of us talk like we care, but that’s where we stop. Steinberg has devoted the majority of his energy in public office to help the dispossessed. He’s aimed high on the homeless crisis. If progress is a gauge, it’s fair to say he’s fallen short thus far.
This is a problem so deeply embedded in our economy, culture, values, programs and priorities that it’s next to impossible to fix. Throwing money at the problem, which the city and state have done in recent years, is not enough.
And it’s a crisis most of us don’t think about until something offends our sensibilities.
We see a homeless encampment and lament the garbage left behind more than the humanity. We drive past a messy encampment and feel disgust more than empathy. And empathy will not solve this problem. If it could, Steinberg would have nailed it long ago.
Who among us would willingly spend or do more to address homelessness? Is the business community, which has a huge stake in the solution, doing enough? It’s naïve, or maybe just plain selfish, to think of this as simply the government’s problem.
It’s a community problem. But we say: Don’t ask me to chip in more for housing, mental health and addiction programs or job training and counseling for people who need it.
Steinberg can take the heat. He’s been in public office long enough to know what happens when you propose something new and bold.
Reviewing the mayor’s efforts, I find it impossible not to think about the famous quote from Teddy Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Keep fighting, Mayor. No one said it would be easy. Stay at it long enough and maybe the rest of us will find a way to step up and lend a hand.
Gary Delsohn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.