Are downtown homeless in danger?
The next census for Sacramento’s homeless population is expected to arrive in about two weeks. City officials strongly suspect the count will show a huge increase.
With that report looming – and with winter weather only months away – some members of the City Council have lost their patience with the lack of progress in tackling one of the city’s gravest issues.
Councilman Allen Warren, who is advocating for a temporary “tent city” in his North Sacramento district, told his colleagues Tuesday night that “everyday that goes by is another wasted opportunity” toward sheltering the city’s homeless population. Warren spoke after a presentation by the city’s homeless services coordinator on the city’s emergency shelter inventory.
“I try not to show my displeasure or my frustration, but it is mounting,” Warren said. “We can’t save everybody. But I believe we can save more than we’re doing.”
Warren was followed by Councilman Steve Hansen, who earlier Tuesday asked for more police officers in his central city district to combat what he said is an uptick in crime. He said the crimes “affect residents, employees, visitors and vulnerable people experiencing homelessness.” His request was made after two homeless men were attacked – one fatally – over the weekend in separate downtown incidents.
“We can nibble around the edges forever, but that’s not going to solve the problem,” Hansen said, adding he wanted to see “more dramatic action” and “some actual progress.”
The last homeless count, released in July 2015, showed 2,659 people living in shelters and on the street in Sacramento County. That count was a 5 percent increase over the 2013 homeless census.
The survey – known as the “point in time homeless count” – is conducted on a January night every two years, with results generally released about six months later.
There is anecdotal evidence throughout the city that the number of homeless individuals has climbed since 2015. Small homeless camps can be found on many side streets underneath the W/X freeway on the edge of midtown. Two homeless men died outside City Hall over the winter.
And a problem once seen as a downtown issue has spread to neighborhoods outside the urban core. During a debate this month, Sacramento County supervisors said residents have seen a growing homeless problem in suburbs beyond the city.
Warren said he has been told as many as 100 students at Grant High School in Del Paso Heights are homeless.
Public agencies in Sacramento spend significant resources on shelter beds, yet hundreds of people sleep under freeways, in parks and along the rivers every night. About $5.8 million in public funds are being spent in the current fiscal year for emergency shelter beds throughout Sacramento County. Most of those beds are within city limits.
There are about 1,200 shelters beds in the county on the coldest winter nights, but far fewer during the summer. Only 12 beds are dedicated specifically to homeless youth.
The city is trying to expand its inventory of shelters. It might allow houses of worship throughout the city to serve as shelters and is exploring a 75-bed “triage center” that connects homeless people with social services.
Emily Halcon, the city’s homeless services coordinator, will report back to the council in mid-September on expanded shelter options.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg has spearheaded the city’s response to homelessness since taking office in December. He recently secured $32 million in federal funds to help the most vulnerable homeless individuals avoid trips to emergency rooms. He said it’s his goal to move 2,000 people off the streets in the next three years.
On Tuesday, with his colleagues clearly exasperated, the mayor took a defiant tone.
“Get on my back, get on all of our backs and let’s get going,” Steinberg told the City Council. “We don’t have time for frustration here.”