Sacramento homeless residents react to second death in front of city hall
A transient man has died on Sacramento City Hall grounds for the second time in a week, increasing pressure for city leaders to find quick solutions for a vexing issue that has grown more visible as heavy rains displace homeless campers from hideaways along the rivers.
A man identified by a friend as “Binny” was found dead early Wednesday morning lying on the concrete just east of the steps of the old City Hall building on I Street. The man, who had unruly white hair and wore athletic shoes, was lying on his right side facing the building. He was partially covered by a small red blanket and wore a blue-and-black flannel shirt, but had no shelter.
Sacramento temperatures dipped to a low of 34 degrees overnight, according to the National Weather Service.
Hearing the news shortly after finishing his first State of the Downtown address Wednesday, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said homelessness in the city was a “crisis” and called for immediate emergency shelters.
“I’m done with this. We are going to open more shelter,” he said.
Last week, Steinberg said the city was conducting an inventory of buildings, such as unused schools, that could be converted to shelters. That list is expected to be completed within a few days. In December, Steinberg worked to open the pool house at Southside Park as a “weather refuge” for homeless during rain and when temperatures drop below 40 degrees at night.
The city and county will hold a joint meeting Tuesday to discuss improvement of homeless services coordination. On Wednesday night, volunteers were scheduled to fan out across Sacramento County to conduct the biennial count of the homeless population.
On Tuesday, Steinberg unveiled a plan he hopes the county will adopt to potentially bring permanent housing to 1,600 homeless people over the next two years. He’s proposing allowing the homeless to have priority for about 800 federal housing vouchers currently at the county’s disposal each year. The plan would allow people living on the street to quickly bump to the top of a long line that currently prioritizes disabled, elderly and veteran applicants.
The plan met with concern from some advocates who fear it would push those on the list into homelessness, and present challenges for delivering vital mental health and other services to those who receive the vouchers.
But Steinberg on Tuesday cited a psychological theory known as Maslow’s hierachy of needs to bolster his contention that quick housing for homeless could facilitate better outcomes. The theory argues that when basic needs such as food and shelter are met, people are more able to turn their attention to matters beyond survival.
On Jan. 18, another homeless man, Michael Nunez, died under the H Street overhang of the new City Hall building. Like “Binny,” a friend said that Nunez went to sleep and never awoke.
Nunez’s sister-in-law, Soledad Nunez, described him as funny and kind.
“He was the life of the party,” she said. She said that Nunez was one of five brothers from Porterville, and had worked for a time in construction building homes in Sea Ranch. Her family was not aware that he was homeless. They had lost contact with him and she had last seen him about four years ago in Healdsburg.
“We didn’t know where he was,” she said. “If we had known he was homeless, we would have looked for him.”
In the Wednesday death, police received a call about a person blocking the ramp of the building around 7:45 a.m. Responding officers arrived on the scene and determined the man was deceased, said police spokesman Matt McPhail.
“Binny” was known to sleep at City Hall and often attended free dinners that homeless activists stage there, according to William Mercer, the friend who provided identification.
Mercer said “Binny” was between 50 and 60. McPhail said the death appeared to be of natural causes, but a final determination will be made by the coroner in coming days.
Mercer said that he had brought soup and cocoa to “Binny” about 11 p.m. the night before in the spot where he was later found dead. Mercer said his friend was fine at that time, but lacked blankets. Mercer brought him two, including the red throw that covered him when he was found.
“He sat up, he was eating and everything,” Mercer said. “Next thing you know, he was dead.”