Mayor Darrell Steinberg has thrown down the gauntlet: Sacramento needs to get 2,000 homeless people off the street in the next three years.
And if that goal isn’t met?
“I’m willing to hold myself accountable,” he told The Bee in an interview Tuesday evening. “I was hired by the people of Sacramento to do many things and at the top of that list is to help make a tangible difference on homelessness.”
Steinberg is in his seventh month of a four-year term.
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Steinberg first laid out his homeless reduction goal at a Monday press conference announcing a report that revealed 3,665 people are living without permanent shelter in Sacramento County – a 30 percent jump over two years ago. More than 2,000 of those individuals are living on the streets. Most of the county’s homeless population resides within the city of Sacramento.
The mayor has grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress on what he called a “top tier quality of life issue” in Sacramento. He said this week that “we have no measurable goal in this region” to decrease the homeless population and said “we cannot stand by and hope that it just gets better.” He added “this is no time for pats on the back” and said he was “frankly tired of attending numerous ribbon-cutting ceremonies celebrating marginal improvements.”
Steinberg has the backing of at least one of his colleagues.
“The mayor has singularly tried to grab this bull by the horns and is trying to bring as much resource attention and political will to bear in changing the situation,” said Councilman Steve Hansen, whose central city district is heavily impacted by the homeless population. “If we don’t begin to change this, I don’t blame the voters for wanting to do something about it.”
Steinberg told The Bee that the programs aimed at tackling the issue are too fragmented. The city and county are largely operating on parallel tracks, approving separate budgets and priorities on the homeless issue. In the meantime, Steinberg said, “we tend to manage (the homeless crisis) in the hopes that it will get better.”
Hansen agreed. “Right now it feels like (the city is) all alone on this,” he said.
County supervisors on Tuesday discussed approaches to homelessness on the American River Parkway and in suburban neighborhoods, but delayed a decision until next month when they know how much money they have available. A plan to add more park rangers and enforce camping prohibitions seven days a week seemed to have the most support.
Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy said it’s premature to question whether the city and county are working together closely enough on the issue, arguing both governments are “in the early stages of the plans that we are adopting.” He said Steinberg’s homeless reduction goal is “appropriate and we need to do it.”
“Now is the time to make sure that we are working together and as efficiently as possible,” Kennedy said.
Steinberg said there is reason for optimism. “For the first time, we have real resources and real capacity,” he said, pointing to a $32 million federal grant he landed for the city that could provide outreach to 3,250 homeless people over the next 3 1/2 years.
Moving forward, he’d like to shift the focus of the biannual point-in-time survey that produced the homeless count. He said it needs to include goals for reducing the homeless population, not just take stock of the problem.
“You set goals because it forces you to stretch, it forces you to rally together,” he said. “I think we can make it demonstrably better. We will get many more people off the street if we set an ambitious goal.”