Step By Step
County makes progress on homelessness
By Rich Desmond
Homelessness is more than a housing crisis. It involves mental illness, drug addiction and criminal behavior, often committed by homeless individuals against others in encampments. While unsheltered individuals suffer, so does the quality of life in some of our neighborhoods.
Sacramento County takes a balanced approach using what I call the “four C’s”—compassion, coordination, capacity and consequences.
We must have compassion for troubled souls living on our streets. Causes of homelessness are complex, with many factors. The county has an obligation to help people overcome housing, employment and other barriers to a productive life. Treatment for drug addiction and mental illness must be part of the equation for most.
Homelessness isn’t confined to specific jurisdictions. That’s why we improved coordination with Sacramento and other cities. We approved a partnership agreement with the city to help guide county obligations and outline city efforts.
We consolidated our homeless efforts under a new County Department of Homeless Services and Housing. We supported Sacramento Steps Forward with the development of a new Local Homeless Action Plan that creates a road map for concrete measurements to gauge progress.
Of course, coordination means nothing if we don’t increase shelter and housing capacity.
The county recently opened 100 tiny homes near Power Inn and Florin roads under our Safe Stay Communities program. The location has services and 24/7 management. Another 45 cabins will open this fall on East Parkway at the county Department of Health Services parking lot.
In the design phase are 200-plus tiny homes for North Highlands. We will open 30 “Safe Parking” spots at the site. These shelters don’t include the several hundred new permanent supportive housing beds recently opened or approved.
Expanding shelter and housing must be linked to services, which are provided directly at shelters and permanent supportive housing locations. The county added hundreds of new residential treatment beds for people suffering from acute mental illness and addiction.
Outpatient services are expanding. We are near the point where we can offer treatment and services immediately to people in need.
Some homeless individuals are reluctant to accept services. Why? Lifestyle choice, opposition to rules, not wanting to give up pets or belongings, and insisting they are “OK” physically and mentally.
Adding more shelter will provide the leverage to get people off the streets. We must insist they accept the services offered.
While we continue to make progress with better coordination and capacity, it’s important to make sure there are consequences for people who break the law or disrupt our communities.
The Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance last year that bans camping around shelter sites because it disrupts lives and reduces the success of those we’re trying to help.
The ordinance, and a companion rule focused on the American River Parkway, bans encampments that pose a threat to critical infrastructure. The county also bans encampments that impact public safety by obstructing roadways and sidewalks.
Enforcing these bans demonstrates good faith to the community that we understand our obligations. Helping the homeless is balanced with our duty make sure communities are clean and safe.
The board funds the Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach Team to make sure county ordinances are enforced and criminal activity related to encampments or individuals is addressed.
The sheriff’s office recently released findings on 926 contacts during the first half of the year. Data show 402 homeless individuals were sexually assaulted. Of those, only 162 incidents were reported. We must not criminalize someone for being homeless. But homelessness isn’t an excuse to commit crime.
Sacramento County still has much work to do. Progress is far too slow. I’m frustrated by the pace, but also confident our approach will help people become productive members of society and ensure our neighborhoods are protected and safe.
Rich Desmond represents District 3 on the County Board of Supervisors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.