County moves forward with homeless solutions
By Rich Desmond
Sacramento County’s homeless problem is complex, especially when it comes to providing services and housing. For people experiencing homelessness, we want them to regain health, income and housing stability.
But that requires cooperation from those who need help. Unfortunately, not everyone will accept services.
I know because I’ve talked to dozens of unhoused people, along with providers who try to connect them with shelter and help.
The reasons vary: lifestyle preference, bad experiences in communal housing, opposition to rules, not wanting to give up pets or belongings, addiction and insistence they are “OK.”
To make matters more complex, there are court-imposed limitations to removing people from campsites or compelling them to accept services.
I’m convinced adding more shelter and housing will provide the legal and moral leverage to get people off the streets. But Sacramento County needs to cooperate with the communities impacted by homeless encampments to ensure our efforts don’t further harm our neighborhoods.
Recently, the Board of Supervisors agreed to purchase a large commercial site near Watt Avenue in North Highlands to expand homeless sheltering and temporary housing under our “Safe Stay Communities” program.
At a series of community meetings, many residents and business owners expressed fear this effort will cause more problems. While that’s a natural reaction, I’m confident this project will benefit the community and help remedy the situation.
The Safe Stay shelter, linked with appropriate services, will provide an immediate safe and hygienic alternative to street encampments and the trash that accompanies them.
Furthermore, the county is committed to making this resource available primarily to the homeless population in the surrounding community. Refusing an available space inside the facility allows the county to clear camps nearby.
Housing recipients will be screened before being placed in the facility. There will be no walk-up referrals. The area will be fenced and gated with an on-site operator and security around the clock. Only registered occupants, staff and emergency personnel will have access.
The county’s recently adopted anti-camping ordinance will bar encampments near the site by establishing a 1,000-foot buffer. That buffer will benefit neighboring businesses.
Services provided, besides shelter, will include behavioral health, job training, food, sanitation and case management to receive eligible benefits. Having services on-site should limit the need for occupants to leave the location. The site will have a curfew to ensure occupants will be inside at night unless a documented exception exists, such as employment.
Pets will be allowed with rules about restraining animals, care and feeding, and cleaning up after them. Provisions will be made to store belongings with efforts to support people with de-cluttering.
The Board of Supervisors previously approved two other Safe Stay sites: 100 sleeping cabins at Power Inn and Florin Road, plus 45 cabins on East Parkway. These will accommodate nearly 200 unsheltered people.
The new location off Watt Avenue, like the others, is intended as an interim approach between unsheltered homelessness and temporary shelter and housing. A stay at any of these facilities is expected to provide a transition to permanent housing.
Due to the size of the North Highlands parcel, the county is exploring several options, including a safe parking arrangement where a household can live in their vehicle, segregated sleeping areas for individuals, and interior “cabins” allowing for couples to temporarily reside together.
Although details must be worked out, I anticipate the site could eventually shelter a few hundred people and make a significant impact in their lives while allowing us to clean up the surrounding area.
Ultimately, this facility will be a stepping stone to stabilize and support individuals on a pathway to permanent housing and becoming healthy and productive members of our community.
Rich Desmond represents the Third District on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.