Opinion

I asked, you answered: Here are your ideas to help fix Sacramento’s homeless problem

Watch the sparks fly over homeless shelter vote at Sacramento City Council meeting

Large 100-bed homeless shelters will soon open in Meadowview and in North Oak Park, the Sacramento City Council decided August 27, 2019, for a price tag of more than $20 million.
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Large 100-bed homeless shelters will soon open in Meadowview and in North Oak Park, the Sacramento City Council decided August 27, 2019, for a price tag of more than $20 million.

I asked and you answered. I wrote “If you have a better idea on helping the homeless problem, tell me.” You did.

Bob from Sacramento touted an idea that needs and deserves far more attention. Instead of waiting to help people once they are homeless, why not do more to prevent vulnerable people from ending up on the street?

“Perhaps we could get the list of proposed evictions from the court and then intervene with temporary housing or rent subsidies so at least we don’t have even more people ending up on the street,” Bob wrote.

“We could also use this list to target job training and other social services. Let’s try to get help to people before they are homeless and before they become harder to target with needed social services. “

A reader named Gwynnae built on that idea. “There is a significant percentage of people who become homeless because of one intervening act – a missed paycheck, an unexpected large bill, late rent, etc. If we could help those people stay in their home, it would reduce the number of people who live on the streets. “

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Gwynnae cited a New York-based program called the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund that intervenes financially when impoverished people are in a crisis.

“It seems like we could implement something similar for ‘bridge loans’ to keep people from losing their housing.”

I started with these ideas, out of the about 40 I received, because they are not in the forefront of discussions but they should be. In years past, people would have called these programs “handouts” or “welfare.” Or someone prone to name calling might label them the work of the “liberal nanny state.” I used to be sensitive to these labels, and communities would shy away from them.

But homelessness is a great civic crisis of our times. We didn’t get here by coddling people.

We got here by not acting quickly enough and decisively enough. Rents have been going up for years. We can’t pretend anymore that these increases haven’t had an effect on homelessness.

Last month, I rode a bike through the lower stretch of the American River and found a tent city of people. The people I spoke with didn’t want to be there. They were from here. Their housing situations were fragile, they had a crisis and, boom – they were homeless, just as Gwynnae wrote.

So what’s worse? Having people on the street or investing more in keeping them off the street? The answer is clearly keeping people off the street.

So why not target those people before they become homeless? Of course, the problem is too big to rely on prevention alone. We need to deal with the people already on the street.

But what’s the best way to do that? The city is adopting the homeless shelter model because winter is coming and building the needed housing will take years. The City Council last week approved a shelter in Meadowview and North Oak Park under the W-X Freeway.

Shelters can be dirty, chaotic, but is this worse than having people on the street? “We are going to bring hundreds of people indoors as quickly as possible and hundreds will turn into thousands,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby opposes shelters and prefers smaller housing sites with smaller concentrations of people. OK, great. Where is the plan? Until or unless we see one, all we’re doing is raging about homelessness instead of addressing it.

Or we consider impractical solutions. More than one idea floated to me was that we house the homeless in the old Sleep Train Arena, a proposal that doesn’t exactly make the best use of the valuable property co-owned by the city and the Kings.

David Bain, the executive director of Sacramento’s branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, wrote: “Many people say, ‘put (a homeless shelter) in the mayor’s neighborhood.’ Well, is it even possible? If not, why continue to talk about it? It just allows the division to continue.

“Since this issue is critical to our long-term success as a city, along with its human impact, the city should create a citizen homeless commission. Have a representative from each council district and a mayoral representative on the commission with support from city staff and operate like any other commission. They could vote on potential sites, facility size, methods of assistance along with community education, information sharing and engagement. This commission would then make the recommendations to the council.”

This could work only if those appointed are about making real proposals. We need to move faster and combine these ideas here with shelters and other measures that we opposed until the people began piling up and dying on our streets.

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Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.
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