Sacramento homeless policy should be about homes, not handcuffs

Sacramento city and county governments continue to pursue dual, flawed, conflicting and contradictory homeless policies, their recent budget deliberations reaffirmed.

One hand pretends to have a hammer to build housing for the homeless, the other a pair of handcuffs to haul them off to jail.

Despite the city’s subcommittee on homelessness producing 21 “options” to address the crisis, it allocated only $400,000 to help the homeless.

The county board of supervisors did not allocate a dime to the touted “triage center” model but increased the Park Rangers illegal homeless camp detail’s budget by $566,498, to $1.38 million.

Between March 2014 and May 2016, the park rangers have issued 2,159 anti-camping citations, removed 2,086 camps and made only 70 referrals to the county Department of Human Assistance in an expensive “whack-a-mole” strategy.

Sacramento Steps Forward’s Common Cents street outreach program surveys of more than 2,300 homeless individuals and families indicated that 80 percent said they had been in jail.

The City Council and Board of Supervisors clearly stated that they support a “Housing First” strategy, but neither allocated additional funds to create affordable housing in our community.

Despite seeing a shift in federal policy from criminalizing homeless people, the City Council and Board of Supervisors continue to enforce the anti-camping ordinance instead of channeling them to the services they need.

The 2015 Cost of Homelessness report documented the city spent $13.66 million on homeless issues, with more than half being spent on “mitigating the impacts of homelessness.” In other words, the city of Sacramento spent $2,628 per homeless person to deal with homeless people and only $329 per homeless person on shelter and housing.

All 15 of the homeless cost studies from 2001-16 have come to the same evidence-based conclusion: Providing permanent supportive housing is considerably less expensive than sending the homeless to jail or transporting them to hospital emergency rooms.

Let us hope that Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, who is opposed to the enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance, will move our community away from a policy that criminalizes homelessness toward a unified strategy that solves homelessness in our community. We should provide homes, not handcuffs.

Bob Erlenbusch is executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, and board president of the National Coalition for the Homeless. Contact him at