Landing NBA All-Star game would be a hollow victory without reducing homelessness

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, center, discusses California’s growing homeless crisis at the state Capitol on Wednesday.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, center, discusses California’s growing homeless crisis at the state Capitol on Wednesday. AP

To make a real dent in homelessness, the challenges have to be addressed from multiple angles.

So the mayors of California’s 11 most populous cities are justified in urging Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to commit $1.5 billion from the state budget, to be matched locally under Assembly Bill 3171.

While there are many demands on the state’s $6 billion budget surplus, it’s clear that cities need assistance with nearly 135,000 homeless Californians. Lawmakers need only look at the hepatitis outbreak in San Diego, encampments strewn across the state and people dying on the streets.

On Wednesday at the state Capitol, Sacramento’s Darrell Steinberg, the new leader of the Big 11 Mayors, called homelessness “first and foremost a humanitarian crisis,” but also the “single biggest threat” to economic opportunity and quality of life.

To house the homeless in Sacramento, officials are on the right track in seeking developers to build 1,000 “tiny homes” in the next two years.

On Thursday at City Hall, Steinberg and other leaders announced the city has sent out a solicitation seeking detailed proposals, which are due by March 15 and are to be presented to the City Council in May.

The city wants the “efficiency units” of 300 to 400 square feet to accommodate any homeless, be accessible to the disabled and to be close to supportive services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment. It is encouraging interested builders to consider new construction materials and housing types that can be easily copied across Sacramento, and to work closely with nonprofits and social service providers.

In return, the city is offering rental subsidies and possibly the use of city-owned land. Now it’s up to community-minded developers to step up.

These tiny homes are a way to jump-start the production of permanent housing for homeless people, but they are only one part of an ambitious strategy put forward by Steinberg and other city officials. For instance, the city also is trying to raise $20 million from the community to give incentives to landlords and to offer rental assistance to keep families from becoming homeless in the first place.

The urgency is obvious. In the past two years, the number of unsheltered homeless people has doubled in Sacramento County. Last year, a record 112 people died on the street.

As winter ends and there’s less need for warm shelter, it can be too easy to pay less attention to homelessness. So it’s crucial that our leaders keep the issue front and center.

Coincidentally, city leaders held another press conference earlier Thursday, this one to launch Sacramento’s bid to land the NBA All-Star Game in 2022 or 2023. Sports are popular, and as a means of boosting a city’s economy, they’re certainly an easier ask than dealing with homelessness.

But until we address the human suffering on our streets, no spectacle will ever be enough to give this city the image it deserves. For Sacramento’s prosperity and livability, not to mention the city’s soul, we must reckon with the need for shelter.

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