Our community can do so much better. We can. And we will, together.
The report released this week estimating more than 2,000 people are living unsheltered in Sacramento County – hunkered down in our streets and alleys, in our bushes and riverbanks – is a public health crisis that demands immediate, decisive action, and a pioneering approach to city-county collaboration.
The toll reaches beyond the hundreds of souls, embodied in these numbers, subsisting in degraded conditions. The impacts reverberate across our community – wearing down businesses, straining law enforcement, and weighing on neighborhoods – undercutting our shared sense of humanity.
I frankly am tired of attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies celebrating marginal improvements in our ability to provide appropriate shelter and services for people living homeless because of untreated mental illness or substance use disorders or residual trauma from having served in our armed forces. We have the resources and capacity to dramatically alter this trajectory.
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I frankly am tired of attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies celebrating marginal improvements in our ability to provide appropriate shelter and services for people living homeless because of untreated mental illness or substance use disorders or residual trauma from having served in our armed forces. We have the resources and capacity to dramatically alter this trajectory. The question is: Do we have the political will?
Let me start with the efforts the city of Sacramento is undertaking to address our homeless issues head-on. Our goal is to move 2,000 people off the streets in the next three years – and to prevent 2,000 additional people from becoming homeless.
▪ We will invest $64 million over four years into a service model known as “whole-person care.” This is money we’ve raised through a federal grant, blended with matching funds from the city and hospitals, and it will allow us to forge an approach to care far different in substance and intensity than what we typically can provide.
▪ Outreach workers will head out daily, hourly if needed, to build the relationships necessary to get people living on the streets with mental illness, addiction and other disabling conditions to agree to intervention and treatment. Caseworkers will wrap them in individualized care, connecting them with medical services, temporary shelter and permanent housing. Over four years, we’re looking to move 3,250 homeless people into coordinated care that extends 24/7, and 1,625 people into housing.
▪ Our aim is “whatever-it-takes” care – an approach that has proven effective – and that means we need more places for people to live once we connect them with services. In partnership with the county and Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, we will create 1,755 new housing opportunities in the next three years for people who are homeless, providing whole-person care clients with housing vouchers and subsidized rentals.
▪ We also need more temporary shelters that provide services beyond a bed and meal. My staff is finalizing a proposal to use $3.25 million in homeless services funding to expand emergency shelter space, including centers that provide round-the-clock triage services.
▪ Tackling these complex issues with compassion and humanity doesn’t mean we abandon the rule of law. We’ve expanded hours for the specialized police units that focus on our homeless population, and our officers will be aggressive in addressing criminal and anti-social behavior.
These are concrete efforts that will make a tangible difference. But to bring them to full effect we need a regional approach, not bound by geographic silos.
The county has stepped forward with its own sizable investments, approving $6.5 million in new services for the homeless. Rather than work on parallel tracks, we should consolidate resources so we are sharing data, integrating programs, amplifying impacts and weaving a true network of care.
When it comes to whole-person care, the city simply cannot succeed without the county’s help. And we have a clear and specific ask as we lay the groundwork for partnership: Giving these clients priority access to the county’s mental health and addiction services.
The county also will have a lead role in ensuring our region benefits from the “No Place Like Home” initiative. That’s legislation I sponsored in 2016 that leverages Mental Health Services Act funding to generate $2 billion statewide for permanent supportive housing for homeless people with mental illness. This year, the state is issuing planning grants, with project funding set to flow in 2018.
Taken together, we have unprecedented resources at our disposal, and an historic opportunity to work as a region, powering forward with shared vision and strategy. It’s time we commit to and achieve that goal.
Are the numbers in this homeless count alarming? Yes. But I choose to see it as a call to action. No excuses. No boundaries. Let’s get at it.
Darrell Steinberg is the mayor of Sacramento. He can be reached at MayorSteinberg@cityofsacramento.org.