Sacramento County supervisors Tuesday increased spending on homeless residents by $724,000, but advocates blasted county leaders for moving $131,500 planned for shelter beds into other homeless services, saying extra beds are needed for the predicted wet winter.
Supervisors face pressure to address the problem of illegal camping on the American River Parkway and to help provide winter housing after cutting a county-funded shelter at Cal Expo during the recession. The $724,000 is in addition to the $17 million in “homeless-related services” the county has already budgeted this year.
The additional spending proposal originally included $131,500 for 38 beds at The Salvation Army through March 2016. County staff originally thought the beds were needed to supplement the county’s existing emergency shelter capacity of 573 beds, which are operated by a variety of nonprofits and church groups.
But supervisors decided to move that money into a longer-term housing program and a hotel voucher program. Supervisor Phil Serna said he wants money spent on solutions for homelessness, and housing is the best option.
While homeless advocates said they generally support the idea of putting more money into housing than emergency shelters, they contended that now is not the time with El Niño promising to deliver the wettest winter in at least four years.
“We can’t wait for 10 days of rain and then say, ‘Let’s build the ark,’ ” said Ronald Javor, an affordable housing activist.
Joan Burke, advocacy director at Loaves & Fishes, called the supervisors’ decision “the right policy at the wrong time.” She said the compassionate choice would be to provide more emergency shelter space this winter.
She said a number of homeless people won’t automatically qualify for the housing programs the county is using.
County Executive Brad Hudson said the county can later find additional shelter space if severe winter conditions make it necessary.
Supervisors put $31,500 of the money budgeted for shelters into a hotel voucher program, which allows the homeless to stay for a night in a hotel. The addition gives that program $124,000, or enough for 1,740 nights at hotels in the voucher program.
The other $100,000 was added to the “rapid rehousing” program, all told giving that program an additional $600,000. The city of Sacramento and Sutter Health have also contributed about $1.5 million combined to the program, which aims to move homeless people into permanent housing. The county is soliciting proposals from contractors to operate the rehousing effort.
From 2008 to 2012, the county had a rapid rehousing program that ended with 2,400 families served, said Ann Edwards, the county’s director of human assistance. The program provides a temporary rent subsidy and a caseworker who helps participants resolve life problems.
But Bob Ehrlenbusch of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness said that program was successful because rental vacancy rates were much higher than they are now. He and other homeless advocates worry there will not be enough housing for the homeless.
Maya Wallace of Sacramento Steps Forward, a nonprofit that has been coordinating the county’s response to homelessness, said interviews conducted by the agency’s caseworkers have found that roughly 30 percent of the homeless would be eligible for rapid rehousing. The rest of the population have disabilities, health issues, problems with mental illness, substance abuse issues or a combination of these conditions, which would make it difficult for them to become self-sufficient.
The goal is to eventually have 75 percent of the rapid rehousing participants become self-sufficient, which includes paying their own rent, said Ryan Loofbourrow, executive director of Sacramento Steps Forward.