Sacramento mayor ‘wary’ of Trump’s offer for homeless aid. But says CA cities should listen

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other California elected officials are skeptical as the Trump administration focuses attention on homelessness in California cities, but are hopeful more federal funding could be on the way to address the growing crisis.

The Trump administration, which has been highlighting problems in major U.S. cities with Democratic leaders, has discussed moving homeless people off the streets of California cities and into government-backed facilities, according to a Washington Post report. Administration officials visited Los Angeles this week to learn about the city’s strategies for responding to the homelessness crisis, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

It’s unclear whether the efforts will help Sacramento, where an estimated 5,570 people are homeless on any given night. That’s a 19 percent increase from two years ago.

Steinberg, recently appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to chair the state’s homelessness commission, said he was “wary” of the offer, but would welcome additional federal funding to address the crisis.

“Homelessness is our most serious problem and deserves a serious response,” Steinberg said in a statement. “I am wary of any such offer from an administration that consistently demonizes vulnerable people. And yet, if the federal government wants to offer resources to help bring people indoors and to offer federal facilities to shelter and house people, we should readily listen. We cannot afford to politicize an issue which needs real thought and real commitment.”

In addition to shelter, the city would appreciate more federal money for affordable housing, housing vouchers and mental health treatment, said Mary Lynne Vellinga, Steinberg’s spokeswoman.

Tens of thousands of people in Sacramento apply to The Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly called Section 8, and do not get a spot.

Garcetti sent a letter to Trump this week with a list of actions the Trump administration could do to aid the housing and homelessness crisis, including increasing funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and supporting the “End Homelessness Act” that would provide cities with new grants and mental health programs to combat homelessness over five years, the letter said.

Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 slashed funding for HUD by $8.8 billion. His proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 proposed cutting funding for badly-needed public housing repairs.

Matt Schwartz, president and CEO of the California Housing Partnership, agreed that the administration should provide funding to help California cities address homelessness.

“This administration attempting to cut funding to the homeless at every opportunity suggests to me that this is just theatrics, to score potshots at California without serious attempts to help,” Schwartz said. “I think they’ll find plenty of people who should qualify for federal assistance, but the problem is it’s not available right now.”

Handling the growing issue typically falls to local governments. State lawmakers recently increased funding to help municipalities open low-barrier homeless shelters and provide other homeless services.

The city spent $5 million to run a homeless shelter for 17 months, which closed April 30. The City Council has allocated about $30 million in state and city funds to open three new large homeless shelters with services, totaling at least 300 beds, in the coming months.

Homeless have started moving in to the Capitol Park Hotel in downtown Sacramento, which could eventually house up to 180 homeless men and women. The city plans to open a 100-bed shelter in Meadowview for women and children this winter, followed by a 100-bed shelter under the W/X freeway this spring.

Kate Irby and Emily Cadei of McClatchy’s Washington, D.C. bureau contributed to this report.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.
Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and writes the Impact2020 newsletter. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.