Haven in Progress

Proven homeless strategy gains momentum

By Craig Powell
March 2020

At the Downtown Sacramento Partnership annual State of Downtown breakfast, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he wants to build a Haven for Hope-style homeless treatment facility. He issued a challenge to the community to identify a site within 90 days.

I’m a strong advocate for local governments to move beyond ineffective low-barrier “Housing First” homeless policies. Rather, we must aggressively treat the root causes of homelessness in a long-term, clinical environment.

Studies show the predominant causes of homelessness are drug addiction (primarily meth) and mental illness. Many people struggle with both. At low-barrier shelters, intoxicated people can be admitted. Criminal backgrounds are never checked. Residents aren’t required to remain sober. They’re just prohibited from using or possessing drugs in the shelter.

Low-barrier policies do little to change the trajectory of drug addicts and mentally ill homeless people, beyond bringing them indoors and feeding them.

Promoting a long-term clinical solution to homelessness has been the top priority of Eye On Sacramento for the past two years. Last year, a grassroots group was organized to persuade the community that a shift in policy is essential: 1) to deal with our growing homeless crisis; 2) help people relaunch their lives and reclaim dignity, independence and self-sufficiency; and 3) reduce the threat homelessness poses to safety and health.

The new group, incorporated as a nonprofit with the name Hope for Sacramento, has been meeting with policymakers, elected officials and service providers, and speaking before the City Council, County Board of Supervisors and community groups to identify solutions. I serve as vice president of Hope for Sacramento. Our president is Sacramento health care executive Chris Jones.

I want to thank the more than two dozen readers who offered to help. They were invited to a February orientation where they learned how to plug into the growing campaign for a robust clinical solution to Sacramento’s homelessness.

One facility is a national model for clinical treatment of the homeless: Haven for Hope in San Antonio, a 22-acre campus divided into a low-barrier shelter that houses about 800 people most nights, and an adjoining intensive residential clinical treatment facility called the Transformational Campus (also housing about 800) that offers every conceivable service, from drug rehab and mental and physical health care to job training, LGBT youth care, veteran support and job placement.

The facility is managed by a nonprofit, community-based organization. Its $21 million annual budget is funded by private dollars (50 percent) and grants from state, county and city.

Street homelessness in San Antonio dropped 91 percent after Haven for Hope opened in 2010. It has a track record of helping people change their lives. The typical stay is about eight months.

Sacramento County Supervisors Patrick Kennedy and Susan Peters, and County Executive Nav Gill have toured Haven for Hope. Now Hope for Sacramento is organizing a group tour.

While Steinberg’s support is vital, he joins other local leaders who see the need for a residential clinical care facility. Writing in the Bee, City Councilmember Steve Hansen said support is growing:

“For the last few months, Sacramento leaders of government and health care have quietly been laying the groundwork for a campus that would bring comprehensive services and housing to people experiencing homelessness.”

UC Davis Health CEO Dr. David Lubarsky supports the Haven for Hope idea. Help from regional health care systems is a key to building the extensive service network needed to support and staff a residential care facility.

Under Lubarsky’s leadership, UCD commissioned a feasibility study. Regional health care systems have already given generously to the city’s shelter program—nearly $10 million, with Sutter Health contributing $5 million.

Haven for Hope San Antonio was built for $101 million with corporate and foundation grants and individual donations (55 percent), and city, county and state funding. The cost in California in 2020 will be higher. But state and local spending on homelessness has exploded—with little to show for it.

The state budget includes $650 million in new homeless spending. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year calls for an increase of $750 million.

Sacramento may not match the corporate base San Antonio enjoys, but we do have generous, community-minded corporations, foundations and philanthropic individuals and families. The San Antonio experience demonstrates that private-sector leadership is essential. A nonprofit management structure, led by an experienced, respected and independent board of directors, can deliver performance and evidence-based results, free of political influences.

Our elected officials must solve this problem. Housing First policies—which are the law in California—often fail to deal with the root causes of homelessness. They are a bottomless financial pit, operating shelters and building new housing to satisfy an inexhaustible demand for permanent, dependent housing for a growing homeless population that never gets better.

New public housing projects in California cost an average of $500,000 per apartment, although Sacramento’s newest project, Twin Rivers on Richards Boulevard, is being built for $732,000 per unit, the highest cost in the state.

A Haven for Hope Sacramento, with the capacity to handle 1,600 to 2,000 homeless people each night, would put local government in a legal position to enforce its anti-camping ordinances in parks, parkways and city streets. Under the Ninth Circuit Court’s Martin v. City of Boise decision, such ordinances cannot be enforced unless a community has enough shelter beds for people living outside.

With Haven for Hope, the homeless would have a choice to accept shelter at the facility or at another shelter, go elsewhere or face prosecution. Homeless encampments could be removed and the public’s safety and health protected.

The only humane, fiscally sane and politically survivable escape for politicians is to help homeless people regain their dignity, independence and self-sufficiency. These goals require an intensive residential clinical setting.

Hope for Sacramento is developing criteria to evaluate sites for Haven for Hope. If you have suggestions, please let me know. And please contact me if you’d like to be a part of the Hope for Sacramento effort.

Craig Powell is a retired attorney, businessman, community activist and president of Eye On Sacramento, a watchdog and policy group. He can be reached at craig@eyeonsacramento.org or (916) 718-3030. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.


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