Editorials

A deal on homelessness that can’t be refused

Raymond Neal, a homeless veteran, goes through a bag of items he received along with other services at a Homeless Care Fair event last month at midtown’s First Church of the Nazarene.
Raymond Neal, a homeless veteran, goes through a bag of items he received along with other services at a Homeless Care Fair event last month at midtown’s First Church of the Nazarene. lsterling@sacbee.com

Mayor Darrell Steinberg doesn’t want to hear the words “stop,” “no,” “wait” or “we can’t” when it comes to getting thousands of homeless people off Sacramento’s streets and into permanent housing.

“I’m going to solve this,” is what he keeps saying. But it wasn’t until Tuesday night’s City Council meeting that Steinberg’s solution went from possibly doable to actually feasible.

The key is a windfall of about $40 million from local and federal tax dollars and Sutter Health. The money would pay for addiction treatment and mental health services for hundreds of homeless people, and provide aid to others in danger of becoming homeless.

To secure the money, all Sacramento County has to do is go along with Steinberg and set aside 1,600 federal housing vouchers and public housing units for chronically homeless people, as well chip in a few million dollars to the cause. It’s a deal the Board of Supervisors can’t afford to refuse. As a matter of principle, the supervisors shouldn’t.

For years, the county has declined to provide enough funding for social services, citing budget woes. The $40 million is nothing to sneeze at. It’s a sum equal to what the county spends annually on homeless services now.

This is the best shot Sacramento has had in decades to actually get people out from under highway bridges once and for all.

Under a partnership worked out by Steinberg and detailed Tuesday, Sutter Health would provide $5 million of the funding and commit to helping raise another $5 million from private agencies that serve homeless people.

The city of Sacramento, with the council’s blessing, would provide another $5 million. That would come from unspent general fund money set aside in this year’s budget for affordable housing and homeless services. Then ideally, the county supervisors, with a blessing from the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, would contribute another $5 million to the plan for a total of $20 million.

To bring the total to $40 million, the city would apply for matching dollars from a federal pilot program, Whole Person Care, that uses Medi-Cal to help “difficult” populations. Typically, counties would apply for the grant, but Sacramento has declined, so the state has given special permission to the city to do it.

Lots of legal hurdles remain. The federal government could tinker with the Whole Person Care program or deny Sacramento the ability to redirect housing vouchers to homeless people. But for now, the pieces are there. It’s time to act.

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