Ready For Progress
Homeless ballot measure one part of many
By Jeff Harris
Over the last seven years, the city has spent millions of dollars and embarked upon many projects to address homelessness.
After housing hundreds of people, it looked as though we were meeting needs and lowering the homeless census. Then the pandemic hit.
Under county health orders, we were forced to let people “shelter in place.” Jails were emptied for the same reason. Bail schedules were reduced to zero. The homeless population grew and addiction rates skyrocketed.
Camps expanded, crime increased and cheap methamphetamine circulated on our streets. We were losing the battle to reduce homelessness.
Once the health order was lifted, a proliferation of camp vehicles appeared. Other jurisdictions enforced their parking laws. But Sacramento did not, and many homeless people took up residence in vehicles.
Today the City Council is divided over how to approach the melee. I asked our code enforcement department to start clearing camp vehicles, and we relocated 162 campers and cars. Some City Council members cried foul. The muddled redistricting process exacerbated the discord.
The business community, recognizing intense anger and frustration across the community, began a ballot petition drive that would compel the city to create as many as 6,400 shelter spaces. The initiative spelled out a pathway to remove unlawful camps once alternative spaces were available.
There were flaws with the initiative. It would be hugely expensive, and core services would have to be cut. We lack space for 6,400 shelter beds. And there isn’t enough staff in the region to support those expectations.
City Manager Howard Chan negotiated with the business community. Together they created a ballot proposal that would compel the city to take action. Chan’s compromise is more realistic and cheaper than the original proposal.
The City Council agreed to put Chan’s compromise on the November ballot. The business community agreed to stop its initiative signature drive.
Even before the homeless initiative agreement, the city purchased 103 acres for shelter and housing. We have triage space at the old Science Center and are collaborating with the county to buy a building where we can open a tiered service center, similar to Haven for Hope in San Antonio.
I recently visited Haven for Hope with County Supervisor Rich Desmond. We have funded Coordinated Access and HMIS, basic data tools needed to efficiently operate all homeless programs. Together with Wellspace, city staff, the mayor’s office and myself, we opened the Substance Use Respite and Engagement Center to deal with addiction.
Now we are poised to make significant progress on homelessness. If Gov. Gavin Newsom follows through with his Care Court idea and we collaborate with the county on behavioral health strategies, we have a real shot to clean up our city.
Jeff Harris is City Council representative for District 3. He can be reached at (916) 808-7003 or email@example.com.