Share The Pain

Council Scrambles to Divide Mayor’s Homeless Plan

By R.E. Graswich

February 2019

It’s a clever maneuver to help solve a problem that has bedeviled Sacramento politicians for decades.

Struggling to make good on a 2016 campaign promise to end the scourge of homelessness, Mayor Darrell Steinberg has widened the field and press-ganged the Sacramento City Council into action.

From Pocket to North Natomas, Steinberg wants to spread the homeless pain.

“I have asked my eight colleagues on the City Council to all commit to providing at least a minimum of 100 additional beds for triage shelters for the homeless in each of their districts,” Steinberg said at a City Hall press conference.

The callout shows why Steinberg is the smartest politician in town. Three years ago, he based his mayoral campaign on his Capitol experience and ability to navigate the complexities of the city’s economy. And he vowed to rid the streets of vagrants and bums—though he didn’t use those words.

Bob Slobe, whose family donated much of the land for the American River Parkway, vigorously uses those words. He has spent his life battling vagrants and bums along the North Sacramento riverfront. For years Slobe asked other neighborhoods to share his burden.

“About 20 years ago, I offered a free tent and sanitary toilets for every bum removed from the parkway,” he says. “There was a caveat. The tents and toilets could only go in East Portal Park, Curtis Park, McKinley Park or Land Park. No surprise, I have yet to spend a dime on a tent or toilet.”

The City Council was happy to watch Steinberg march out alone and search for solutions to homelessness. The mayor sucked up the oxygen. While Steinberg took ownership of homelessness, the council could focus on other matters.

Steinberg made good on his promise to inject octane into the city’s finances. He convinced voters to permanently add 1 cent to local sales taxes. As for making homeless problems vanish, he’s had less luck.

 

The same thing happened 10 years ago, when newly arrived Mayor Kevin Johnson decided to tackle the homeless plague. He spent a highly publicized night in a homeless camp. He created a nonprofit to find temporary housing for vagrants.

And the problem worsened. Today there are more homeless people on the streets than ever—more than 3,700 by last count. Experts say at least half of our derelicts don’t want services. The city calls them “service resistant guests.”

Now Steinberg, humbled by his thankless job as homeless savant, has dragged his council mates into the frame. Politically, they can’t refuse.

This month, council members are searching for sites to host homeless shelters, either in big tents or warehouses. Good luck finding old warehouses that haven’t been converted for cannabis production. And good luck finding new, previously undiscovered land.

Publicly, council members agree with Steinberg about spreading the homeless freight. Privately, they are plotting workarounds. But in eight council districts, neighbors are worried whether they will receive a 100-bed shelter, courtesy of City Hall.

Bob Slobe thinks North Sacramento, which houses the city’s shelter on Railroad Drive, should be exempt from Steinberg’s pledge. He says, “We have borne the burden too long and it’s the rich folk’s turn to share.”

Fair point. Welcome to his world.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at reg@graswich.com.

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