Viewpoints

Homeless people are human beings who need our help – including in Meadowview

Mayor speaks in favor of homeless shelter in Meadowview during community meeting

Mayor Darrell Steinberg speaks in favor of a homeless shelter in Sacramento's Meadowview neighborhood near the Pannell Center during a community meeting at Genesis Missionary Baptist Church on Monday, August 12, 2019.
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Mayor Darrell Steinberg speaks in favor of a homeless shelter in Sacramento's Meadowview neighborhood near the Pannell Center during a community meeting at Genesis Missionary Baptist Church on Monday, August 12, 2019.

I have represented Sacramento’s neighborhoods for 23 years, first as a member of the City Council, then as a state legislator and now as your mayor. Through good times and rough patches, I have always focused on and delivered for the neighborhoods of our city, especially those historically left behind.

Most recently, I led an unprecedented effort to pass Measure U with a specific vision to invest real economic resources in our most challenged neighborhoods.

Our city’s debate over the siting of what we call “rehousing shelters” has predictably and understandably aroused controversy and passion.

The stereotyping of all homeless people is unfortunate and misses two key points. First, they are us. Ninety-three percent of Sacramento’s homeless are long-term residents of our county. They are fellow human beings, and they need help.

Second, the old mantra, “not in my backyard,” ignores the reality that the homeless problem exists in all our backyards. In District 8, site of the proposed south-area shelter, the city police received 962 homeless calls for service between January 1 and the first week of August. That does not include fire department emergency calls or any other calls for help.

Opinion

We need a south-area shelter open before winter.

I also heard the concerns expressed by community members about placing a low-barrier shelter near the Samuel and Bonnie Pannell Community Center.

After consulting with community leaders in recent days, I have decided to press forward with a shelter for single women and families headed by women at the site. This shelter will complement the low-barrier general population shelters currently in the works, including the former Capitol Park Hotel downtown, which will open in September, and a 100-bed shelter planned under the W-X freeway near Alhambra Boulevard and Broadway.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, I will ask for a vote from my colleagues to move forward on Meadowview with this new approach. We will also be voting on the W-X shelter, and on repurposing 184 traditional beds in existing shelters owned by the county to offer the services and housing placement now considered best practice for helping people transition out of homelessness. We will also be voting to sign contracts for 50 additional family shelter beds.

That all adds up to more than 600 beds. If we turn over those beds three times a year, we can get 1,800 people off the street.

Jackie Rose, who leads the Black Child Legacy Campaign in Meadowview, says she regularly interacts with homeless families who need help – mothers and children sleeping in cars on 100-degree days, going without food and showering at public pools.

Sacramento Steps Forward, the county’s homeless services coordinator, counted 280 women and children who are chronically homeless and unsheltered. No doubt that is a significant undercount.

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Darrell Steinberg

The word shelter implies to many people an unsafe, crowded living space where people linger with little or no help. That term fails to capture the service-rich housing hubs we seek to build. San Francisco calls them “navigation centers.” In Los Angeles, it’s “bridge housing.” Here, we’re calling them “rehousing shelters.” These shelters use a whatever-it-takes approach to transition people to permanent housing.

In the 17 months that we operated a shelter using this approach, on Railroad Drive in north Sacramento, more than 260 homeless people were placed in permanent or longer-term housing, nearly twice the placement rate of a traditional shelter.

The Meadowview parcel was chosen because it is one of the few around the city that meets important criteria. It is large enough, at nearly 5 acres. It can be easily fenced off and secured. It is paved and has utilities. The city already owns it.

A shelter there can open before winter, before more people die outdoors.

We cannot leave the City Council meeting on Tuesday without committing to siting and constructing at least two more shelters. Not only is having so many people living on the streets unsafe and unhealthy, it’s also a crisis for our neighborhoods and our business corridors.

In my two-plus years as mayor, we have brought hundreds of homeless people indoors. We must act aggressively to turn the hundreds into thousands.

Darrell Steinberg is mayor of Sacramento.
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