The Homeless

Mayor apologizes after police told homeless people to leave City Hall during rainstorm

Mayor Darrell Steinberg has asked police to stop telling homeless people sleeping under City Hall overhangs during rainstorms to leave the area. An incident during a storm earlier this month prompted Steinberg’s action.

“As the mayor of this city, I want to apologize,” Steinberg said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “I’m taking the responsibility ... that should not have happened. People should not be asked to leave at 2:30 in the morning or whenever it was, in a rainstorm, period.”

Steinberg’s apology came after homeless rights activist David Andre told the council about the incident.

“These are people sheltering in the most severe rainstorm we’ve had this winter,” Andre said.

A city code section says nobody can be present at the City Hall plaza between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. unless attending a city hearing or meeting.

When they have time, officers working overnight are directed to go to City Hall to enforce the code and ask people to leave, said Sgt. Vance Chandler, police spokesman.

“In the last few weeks, there have been nights where officers have been available during bad weather nights ... and have gone to enforce that city code,” Chandler told The Bee. “Obviously there are times when our graveyard officers are out there and they have availability when the weather is colder because it’s slower and there’s not as many calls for service.”

Steinberg does not want the police to keep asking people to move from City Hall, especially during storms, he said.

“I’m asking the city manager to please work with us to ensure that when it comes to inclement weather, specifically, that this kind of thing does not happen,” Steinberg said.

City Manager Howard Chan said he is looking into the matter and will decide with police officials whether to give the officers more latitude, city spokesman Tim Swanson said.

“It could be that officers are given more discretion regarding enforcement during certain conditions, including inclement weather,” Swanson said.

The incident highlights the city’s ongoing need for additional homeless shelter beds.

In winter 2017, two homeless men died on City Hall grounds in one week.

Since then, the city opened a large homeless shelter in north Sacramento with 200 beds, now reduced to 100, but there are still thousands of homeless people living in the county.

Steinberg plans to next month propose a more than $30 million plan to fund several new homeless shelters for several years, using public and private funds, he said.

The City Council is expected to consider the proposal Feb. 12 as part of the midyear budget. Council members are looking for sites to put 100 shelter beds in each of their districts, and several have disclosed potential sites.

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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.