Work In Progress
3 ways to reduce county’s homeless
By Rich Desmond
Many articles in Inside Sacramento have described the failure of local elected officials to address the homelessness crisis. I hear your frustration and take responsibility for the failure. The crisis continues to grow. With it comes more suffering and misery among those living in our open spaces, more hardships for small business owners, more blight and trash in neighborhoods, more aggressive confrontations between campers and residents, and more crime.
Three efforts are underway in the city of Sacramento and Sacramento County that could significantly reduce the number of people living unsheltered while eliminating the worst impacts of encampments. I am working on these efforts and want your feedback.
In response to challenges caused by encampments, the City Council has placed a proposed ordinance on the November ballot that would generally require the city to provide enough shelters and safe sleeping spaces for those who need them. In return, camping in public places would not be allowed under most circumstances.
The ordinance would allow people to bring legal action against the city if it does not remove encampments. I am having discussions with one of my colleagues at the Board of Supervisors, our county executive and others about the proposal and the importance of passing a county ordinance that largely mirrors it.
These conversations obviously include a discussion about what social services the county will provide and how many shelter and housing alternatives the county would need. My hope is that we enact a county ordinance that compels us to create more shelters, supportive housing and behavioral health beds.
As a companion piece, I plan to introduce an ordinance that would prohibit camping near sensitive infrastructure, such as schools, flood-control facilities and transportation structures.
A big challenge is that many local governments and nonprofit service providers work in silos. They control their own housing and shelter capacity. Sometimes they guard against making it available to outsiders. Unfortunately, this crisis is regional, not isolated. Any effort in one part of the county has a ripple effect. We have to do a better job combining resources and centralizing our referral and placement efforts. Sacramento Self Help Housing is the organization the county and city use to coordinate access to shelter and supportive housing, but it needs help to be successful. The city has made an investment to give Self Help the tools it needs. I am hopeful the county will follow and coordinate these efforts.
The ordinance and coordination discussed above will be meaningless unless we develop more capacity. We must dedicate more locations for safe camping, car camping, sleeping in individual cabins, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing. Each of these must come with security, restrooms, showers and social services to guide people to long-term treatment and housing.
The Board of Supervisors will hold a public workshop in the next couple months to present county-owned locations and other spaces to provide capacity.
None of the sites presented at the upcoming board meeting will be selected until there is public input and discussion. I will work to make sure any sites we use to shelter or house the homeless are not overly concentrated in certain communities. I also plan to introduce an ordinance that will prohibit camping near any sites that house the homeless. This will be a crucial tool to make sites safe for surrounding neighborhoods and the homeless who are placed there.
I am confident our efforts to create better coordination, capacity and consequences will make a difference. They will give us the authority to stop enabling destructive behavior while recognizing our obligation to help those in need with compassion and understanding.
Rich Desmond is Sacramento County supervisor for District 3. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (916) 874-5471. Follow us on Facebook, T