The failure to develop enough housing to keep pace with an increasing population is a primary cause of homelessness in the region, local government representatives and resource providers told members of two Sacramento neighborhood associations.
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people gathered Monday evening at the Sierra II Center for a community forum on homelessness sponsored by the Land Park Community Association and the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association. A dozen panelists representing the city and county of Sacramento, the Sacramento Police Department and organizations that serve the homeless community responded to written questions from the audience.
Residents have expressed concern over what has been perceived as an increasing number of homeless people in neighborhoods where homelessness has not typically been an issue. But Ryan Loofbourrow, chief executive officer of Sacramento Steps Forward, said his agency has found that most people who are homeless frequent neighborhoods where they lived.
“They are people from your community who are experiencing homelessness,” he said.
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Sacramento Steps Forward works with local governments, service providers and the private sector to help people obtain housing and economic stability.
Noel Kammermann, the new general manager of Loaves & Fishes, said ending chronic homelessness is an achievable goal. He cited his experience working with an agency in Connecticut, which was able to get all homeless veterans housed and is on track to reduce the number chronically homeless – those who have been homeless for at least a year – to zero this year.
The obstacle in Sacramento, he said, is lack of housing, due to an increasing population, including people moving here and commuting to jobs in the Bay Area. The Sacramento housing market is “overstretched,” he said, and as rents increase, “those who can’t meet rents cascade into homelessness.”
Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer said rent control is not a solution, arguing that it would stifle the development of new housing.
“Clearly, we don’t have enough of anything,” he said, noting that Sacramento also needs more “supportive housing” to aid those who are homeless.
Saying the community needs to get creative, Schenirer asked how many in the audience would be OK with having a 55-person shelter in their neighborhood. Numerous hands went up.
Several questions pertained to how police deal with homeless issues. One questioner asked how long it takes for police to respond to reports of homeless encampments.
Officer Justin Boyd, a member of the Sacramento Police Department’s Impact Team, whose members are trained to deal with the homeless and people with mental health issues, said officers try to respond within 36 hours. They typically have campers collect their belongings and leave the site, then call in code enforcement officers to handle cleanup of the area.
The process becomes more complicated if the camp is on private property, Boyd said, because code enforcement personnel must first contact the property owner.
The panel also was asked what can be done about homeless people who are offered services but refuse them.
It’s not illegal to be homeless, Boyd said, so officers are limited in what they can do.
“Every person’s situation is different, so you have to be patient,” he said.
Service providers said they are working to change the services they offer to give people more options. Some said they are trying to remove barriers that discourage people from going to shelters by allowing them to bring along their pets and possessions, and allowing people without children to be housed in the same shelter as a partner of the opposite sex.
One questioner asked what individuals in the community can do to assist the homeless.
Melinda Ruger, of Harm Reduction Services, which focuses on people dealing with drug addiction, said she was homeless for a decade. “When I was homeless, I never wanted to look at anyone because no one would look at me,” she said.
Although people should avoid potentially dangerous situations, she encouraged them to greet people who are homeless, to ask their name and engage them in conversation. She also urged people in the community to volunteer with service groups, to become involved in movements to address homelessness and to show up at meetings of governmental bodies when decisions are to be made.
“Extend your humanity,” Ruger said.
Loofbourrow stressed the need for housing. If you are a landlord or a property owner willing to help meet the need, he said, “I want to talk to you.”
It is also important to prevent people from becoming homeless. If you know people who are in crisis, Loofbourrow said, intervene.
Schenirer suggested holding additional forums to focus more specifically on some of the issues related to homelessness.