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Can Cal Expo become a homeless solution?
By Rich Desmond
Every conversation with constituents begins or ends with frustrations over homelessness. That frustration is a major reason I ran for county supervisor. I knew something bold had to happen to help those in need and reduce the impacts to our businesses and neighborhoods.
Government has an obligation to provide safe sleeping areas, sanctioned camping sites, shelters or car camping areas. There is nothing compassionate about allowing someone with untreated mental illness or addiction to live in desperation, filth and squalor. It’s also unfair to residents and business owners who struggle with the impact of homeless encampments.
I support collaborative efforts between the county and city of Sacramento to help get people off the streets and into a safe and sanitary environment with access to services and supportive housing. That’s why I started working with my colleague, Supervisor Phil Serna, and our counterparts on the City Council to explore a homeless shelter behind Cal Expo on the American River Parkway.
Cal Expo became a logical place to explore because it’s close to large unhoused populations along the American River Parkway and in the Arden-Arcade area.
Although I was initially opposed to a shelter near Cal Expo, I now believe it would be irresponsible not to evaluate its feasibility to provide shelter and relieve pressures on the parkway and nearby businesses and residents.
I’ve focused on starting small. A well-managed facility would not affect operations at Cal Expo. Please keep in mind that the parkway behind Cal Expo is not the only place being explored as potential shelters. I will work to make sure any county sites are fairly distributed.
After Cal Expo was identified, discussions revealed that Lot Z, an overflow parking area for the State Fair, would minimize the impact on the main Cal Expo grounds. Lot Z is within the American River Parkway, and legislation was required to make the site available as a potential shelter.
Assembly Bill 175, introduced by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, allows the use of Lot Z as a shelter site if approved by the Cal Expo Board, County Board of Supervisors and City Council.
Shortly after taking office, I initiated conversations with American River Parkway advocacy groups to better understand the problems of encampments. I met property and business owners near Cal Expo to hear their concerns. I spoke with representatives from community and advocacy organizations in Arden-Arcade. I am committed to an open dialogue about a shelter in the Cal Expo area and homelessness in general.
Any shelter, safe sleeping area or car camping site operated by the county must provide a safe and sanitary environment, meals, access to services and stabilization. The goal must be to move individuals into treatment and supportive housing. A shelter must have one central access point and security to minimize disruptive behavior. Law enforcement must increase patrols around the shelter to ensure criminals don’t prey on the unhoused population.
My vision for a potential shelter behind Cal Expo is that it would begin with perhaps 100 beds. Campers on the parkway and nearby neighborhoods will get priority. Clients will be screened to determine they will not become disruptive.
The shelter will include a Good Neighbor Policy to include regular meetings with property owners and residents. I am hopeful we can prevent camping in public spaces near the shelter. And I hope we can encourage the unhoused to take advantage of the services while demonstrating that a shelter need not become a magnet for problems.
What’s next? The size, operation, structure and Good Neighbor Policy for a potential shelter behind Cal Expo are being evaluated. This evaluation will include contingency plans for moving the shelter in the event of flooding or severe weather.
After county staff determines the best structure and operations, staff will engage with property owners and community members to discuss a Good Neighbor Policy and ways to mitigate concerns. The county will then present a proposal to the Board of Supervisors, City Council and Cal Expo Board for approval.
I’m committed to ensuring local residents experiencing homelessness have a safe place to sleep and access to treatment and resources, and that businesses and residents see relief from the negative impacts of encampments.
The Cal Expo option is one of many being explored. If you’d like to weigh in, please share your thoughts or offer alternative solutions. My office is always open. Let’s keep talking as we work toward real solutions.
Rich Desmond represents District 3 on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. He can be reached at email@example.com or (916) 874-5471. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.