Homeless solutions need teamwork
By Rich Desmond
The homelessness crisis continues to grow. My office receives more calls, emails and online posts about this issue than any other.
The growing population of people living unsheltered on our streets, parks and open spaces brings human suffering to our doorsteps and represents a failure of government to provide safe and sanitary shelter and meaningful treatment programs for addiction and mental illness.
Meanwhile, the negative impact from homeless encampments is reaching a tipping point, with aggressive and sometimes violent confrontations, disruptions to small businesses, trash and human debris in open spaces, hazardous waste in our streets and waterways, and devastating fires on our American River Parkway. This cannot continue.
Since January, I have devoted most of my time in office to this issue, working with homeless support providers, county staff, small business owners, law enforcement partners and faith community leaders. I believe we have a moral responsibility and, because of the federal court decision in Martin v. Boise, a legal responsibility to provide safe areas so everyone living unsheltered can get out of the elements, chaos and dangerous conditions.
However, I am also firmly convinced that our efforts must be accompanied with an obligation by the unhoused to use the services we offer, and an obligation by local governments to enforce the rules that we must all live by to keep our streets, neighborhoods and open spaces clean and safe.
There is a growing recognition that our homelessness crisis will not be solved without a much more coordinated and consistent approach across Sacramento County and city boundaries. That approach must include expanded triage programs that can provide immediate, safe and sanitary shelter to the unhoused through a variety of models.
These triage programs will need to cover the spectrum from safe camping areas with low barriers to car camping sites, tiny home villages, scattered site homes and focused shelters for women and children. They will need to come with intensive outreach and services to connect people with treatment programs, interim and permanent supportive housing, job training and other assistance to get them on a path to a healthy life.
The city of Sacramento is working on a siting plan to identify locations for these models to serve the homeless. The county is also working toward identifying some sites in the unincorporated areas because, as residents of District 3 know, there is a large and growing population of unhoused in the county.
I am proud to work with county leadership, my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, and my counterparts on the Sacramento City Council on an approach that clarifies the overall roles and responsibilities between the county and city while working on ways to coordinate our efforts at specific sheltering sites.
Some of this work is occurring on the formal “2×2” effort between the city and county, which has already shown great promise in developing a better working relationship between county and city leadership.
With additional federal COVID-19 relief funding this year, combined with new state funding sources for homelessness programs, we have a real opportunity to devote enough resources to address the immediate needs we see all around us.
Although I share the concerns of many of my constituents that we already spend an exorbitant amount of money on homelessness programs, I believe this new funding is necessary if we are to make a significant difference. I will be focused on ensuring the new public funding goes toward programs and initiatives that are measurable and with sufficient accountability.
If a program isn’t working, it should not continue to receive taxpayer funding.
I will focus on ensuring that new programs designed to get the unhoused into shelters and services also provide relief to our businesses, residential neighborhoods, the American River Parkway and other public spaces that are negatively impacted by encampments.
The status quo has not worked. Now is the time for meaningful action. We must provide effective and compassionate assistance to those in need while protecting our community and preserving our environmental resources.
Rich Desmond represents District 3 on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (916) 874-7593. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.