In fight against homelessness, Sacramento has no time for NIMBYs. That includes you, Land Park

The city of Sacramento is planning to convert the former Lumberjack building on Arden Way into a 200-bed "triage" shelter for homeless people. It would open by early next year and operate 24 hours a day.
The city of Sacramento is planning to convert the former Lumberjack building on Arden Way into a 200-bed "triage" shelter for homeless people. It would open by early next year and operate 24 hours a day. rpench@sacbee.com

It’s an inconvenient political truth in California that almost everyone wants to help homeless people get off the streets and into housing. But almost no one wants to help when that housing happens to be next door.

So, it’s no surprise that residents of North Sacramento are livid over Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s plan to open a temporary emergency shelter and a permanent “triage” shelter in their neighborhood in the coming months.

“I just don’t see any upside for our area,” Shane Curry, chairman of the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership, told The Bee’s Ryan Lillis. “It’s not like these people are going to become contributing, productive citizens.”

We predict similar howls of protest over a second temporary shelter planned for Florin Road in south Sacramento.

While it’s true these residents have a point – there’s nothing good about creating a concentration of homeless shelters in struggling, low-income neighborhoods – it’s also true that Sacramento doesn’t have time for NIMBYism.

There’s a full-blown public health crisis underway. More than 2,000 homeless men, women and children sleep outdoors every night, according to the latest headcount, and so many live in tents and tarps along the American River Parkway that risky levels of E. coli bacteria now taint the water.

The situation will only get worse when the weather turns and it starts to rain.

Last winter, several weeks of cold, wet weather forced hundreds of homeless campers off the parkway and into surrounding neighborhoods. Two men even died in their sleep on the grounds of City Hall, mere feet from where the council had been discussing how to handle the emergency.

The city is right to move quickly to head off another such crisis. Steinberg should also head off complaints such as Curry’s by keeping his vow to open more shelters throughout the city, spreading the demand to affluent places such as Land Park, with no sacred cows.

And Sacramento County must pitch in. So far, the Board of Supervisors has been, shall we say, wishy-washy about cooperating with the City Council on short- and long-term solutions.

The city, for example, has touted its plans for multiple temporary winter shelters, including the 300-bed emergency facility set for a warehouse off Del Paso Boulevard and the 75-bed shelter in an old Adult Education Center on Florin Road.

The county, meanwhile, has yet to decide on a plan for its own emergency winter shelter, which will only offer 100 beds. This is the first year that the county has opted to run such a shelter directly, replacing Sacramento Steps Forward as the organizer of the annual Winter Sanctuary program, which typically brings in local churches to host a series of rotating nighttime shelters.

The city had planned to work with the county on opening a shelter under the Winter Sanctuary program, but county staff are still deciding on a format for it and haven’t settled on a proposed site. Also, the Board of Supervisors won’t approve a shelter operator until its Oct. 17 meeting. So the city started mobilizing its own winter shelters.

“We’re not going to wait,” Emily Halcon, the city’s homeless services coordinator, told a member of The Bee’s editorial board. “We can’t hold up because winter is around the corner.”

The city also is moving ahead with a permanent, 200-bed triage shelter, which would be run out of a building near the Woodlake neighborhood in North Sacramento. It would open next spring or summer, and operate 24 hours a day.

Meanwhile, the county has promised to open its own permanent, 75-bed triage shelter, but supervisors have yet to name a location, casting doubt on whether it will really be able to open as planned in early 2018.

Then there’s Whole Person Care, the federal pilot program that would move homeless people out of emergency rooms and triage centers into county-run addiction and mental health programs, and then into housing. The city secured $64 million in federal, state, local and private funds to run the program, but the county has dragged its feet in getting on board.

After months of skepticism and excuses, the Board of Supervisors recently declared a willingness to work with the city to implement the program. But a plan has yet to materialize on the county’s end, even as federal dollars for outreach and case management services are on the verge of trickling in later this year.

Enough of this.

Homelessness is too large and too complex of a problem for the City Council – or one or two neighborhoods in one or two council districts – to solve alone. Communitywide collaboration is the only way.

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