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Sacramento County approves broad plans to help the homeless

Sacramento considers homeless center similar to successful version in San Francisco

Sacramento County will consider creating a shelter modeled after the Navigation Center in San Francisco. The Bee was asked to not include Navigation Center clients in this video.
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Sacramento County will consider creating a shelter modeled after the Navigation Center in San Francisco. The Bee was asked to not include Navigation Center clients in this video.

Sacramento County supervisors on Tuesday approved an ambitious series of proposals to breathe new life into services for homeless people.

The Board of Supervisors voted to begin the process of creating a full-service shelter, launching a new rehousing program, redesigning the family emergency shelter network and supporting long-standing job training and transitional housing programs.

Paul Lake, chief deputy executive of countywide services, called the plans a “comprehensive roadmap for fixing what is not working and shoring up those things that are.”

Cindy Cavanaugh, the county’s director of homeless initiatives, described a system in which chronically homeless people would enter the shelter, receive mental and physical healthcare, and be referred to an array of housing and employment services, including at the Mather Community Campus, run by the Volunteers of America.

MCC lost its federal funding for the next fiscal year, so Cavanaugh recommended putting county general-fund money into the program to support job training and transitional housing.

She said it’s imperative the new programs be flexible enough to meet individual needs. The programs are designed to help homeless people who cost the county the most – frequent users of expensive services such as emergency rooms and those who have frequent contact with law enforcement.

Chakira Parsons, a teacher at Loaves and Fishes Mustard Seed School for the children of homeless families, told board members that four families with children in the school had received housing but returned to the street because they lacked support services.

The new rehousing program is designed to provide those services, including intensive mental health care, help finding housing units and rental assistance.

Representatives of homeless services organizations and community members piled into the supervisors’ chambers for an hourslong discussion Tuesday. Most speakers supported the county’s plans, though several were concerned about where portions of the funding would come from.

Cavanaugh’s proposal calls for taking about $1.2 million from Sacramento Steps Forward’s outreach worker and rehousing programs. Sacramento Steps Forward is the county’s leading homeless services provider.

Joan Burke, director of advocacy for Loaves and Fishes, said she would like to see more use of existing Sacramento Steps Forward programs rather than creating parallel channels for housing. The organization is an important partner, she said.

“Sacramento Steps Forward has become the voice of a very engaged community on this issue,” Burke said.

Overall, the set of proposals would cost $5.58 million in new spending for the next fiscal year and $8.3 million in new spending annually. With redirected existing funds, the annual price tag would be $10.2 million from the general fund.

Three informational meetings and a joint city-county meeting during the past six months led up to Tuesday’s decision; supervisor Phil Serna said the timeline allowed staff to create a thorough proposal.

Serna said it was “serendipitous” that Tuesday’s meeting fell about a year after the supervisors first decided to focus more on homeless services after hearing constituent complaints.

At the same time, supervisors voted to support the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency’s plan to reallocate some housing vouchers to chronically homeless people over the next three years. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg championed the approach, which would direct 150 vouchers toward homeless households each year.

Steinberg gave the first public comment at the meeting, thanking the supervisors and county staff for a “robust and impressive set of proposals.” He acknowledged that there has been tension between county and city officials over how best to address homelessness.

Steinberg said the plans approved Tuesday represent a “paradigm shift” in the way the county handles homelessness, and he said he hopes the county will work closely with the city moving forward.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison

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