More bureaucracy isn’t a solution for homelessness

Homeless rights activists occupy the plaza outside Sacramento City Hall in January.
Homeless rights activists occupy the plaza outside Sacramento City Hall in January. aseng@sacbee.com

Without a doubt, homelessness is a problem in Sacramento County that’s desperately in need of a solution. Every year, tens of millions of dollars are spent trying to help people get off the streets – and, every year, the problem only seems to get worse.

We have reservations, though, about whether any solution should involve yet another layer of bureaucracy, with yet another cook in an already crowded kitchen of stakeholders, each with a different agenda on homelessness.

On Tuesday, the Sacramento County supervisors voted to do just that, moving forward with a position for a new director of homeless initiatives – at a cost of $217,261 a year in salary and benefits.

Modeled after Los Angeles’ and San Francisco’s setups, the job will involve coordinating the county-level policies and programs related to homelessness, from funding for housing and shelters to mental health programs to code enforcement. The director will be the point person, working to put the county’s money to its best use. Last year, that was about $40 million.

It’s a big job. But what’s troubling is it’s a job with duties that are, at best, vague and, at worst, redundant.

Whoever is hired will find themselves stepping on a lot of toes. The stakeholders don’t necessarily agree on how to help homeless people get off the streets, don’t always work together and don’t seem to recognize any sort of chain of command.

There are those who run shelters and provide services – some favoring a Housing First model, accepting homeless people regardless of whether they’re using drugs or alcohol, others adamant that sobriety be a prerequisite to help.

There are those pushing for a city-sanctioned tent city and the task force of City Council members set up to study it. There are the people who oppose tent cities and the people protesting the city’s camping ban.

Then there’s Sacramento Steps Forward, designated years ago as the agency in charge of coordinating efforts by the county and city to reduce homelessness. But its leadership hasn’t always been clear, in part because of residents pushing city and county officials to take a bigger role in efforts to end homelessness.

Adding a county director of homeless initiatives could complicate things even further, when the real need is to untangle this mess. If supervisors are going to create this job, they also should define, once and for all, who is in charge of homeless initiatives in Sacramento. We need to know.