Erika D. Smith

The solution for homelessness in Sacramento? Try acceptance

Two Sacramento County sheriff's deputies let campers know they must pack up and move on outside the Sacramento County Courthouse on April 27. Homeless people have been camping overnights for months at the courthouse, enticed by its relative safety, security and proximity to services.
Two Sacramento County sheriff's deputies let campers know they must pack up and move on outside the Sacramento County Courthouse on April 27. Homeless people have been camping overnights for months at the courthouse, enticed by its relative safety, security and proximity to services. rpench@sacbee.com

There are no quick fixes for homelessness. One would think most Californians would know that by now.

But here in Sacramento, it seems we’re still embarking on exercises in futility – expensive and heartless ones at that.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard wants to fence off the plaza of the Sacramento County Courthouse and have California Highway Patrol officers guard it just to stop homeless people from camping there, leaving garbage and feces that take hours to clean.

Others have criticized the Central Library for letting homeless people use its public restrooms because cleaning them costs more than $25,000 a year and probably chases other patrons away. Never mind that the library has some of the only restrooms open to homeless people in the central city, and that the Downtown Sacramento Partnership is content to keep power washing feces off the sidewalk instead of supporting the construction of more restrooms. Or that the Pit Stop portable restroom program has vanished from the City Council’s radar, following the end of the pilot project.

“If we focus on the bathroom issue, then we are going to build bathrooms everywhere,” Dion Dwyer of the partnership told The Bee’s Anita Chabria.

Some people in Sacramento are starting to sound an awful lot like Justin Keller, that self-absorbed tech bro who got so upset about homeless people in San Francisco that he decided to write a open letter to Mayor Ed Lee about it.

“I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted,” he complained last year, causing an uproar on social media. “I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day.”

Like Keller, many Sacramento residents just want homeless people to go away.

I get it. I live in midtown. There’s nothing fun about stepping over a woman sleeping in her own feces when you’re walking to dinner. And there’s nothing cool about avoiding eye contact with a man who is talking to himself and hurling oranges like baseballs at parked cars.

But where exactly should these homeless people go? It’s not like there are enough shelters or affordable housing units.

Right now, homeless people are just being moved around the city. Asked why she was camping at the courthouse one April morning, Donna Grayson told The Bee’s Darrell Smith: “They moved us from everywhere else. When we were at City Hall, they told us we need to stop staying there.”

If it’s not the courthouse, then it’s Cesar Chavez Plaza. If it’s not Cesar Chavez Plaza, then it’s the Central Library. If it’s not the Central Library, then it’s Loaves & Fishes. If it’s not Loaves & Fishes, then it’s the American River Parkway. If it’s not American River Parkway, then it’s midtown, Oak Park, Curtis Park or your neighborhood.

I’ve heard a few people suggest Sleep Train Arena. But I don’t think we should turn the Kings’ old home into the Superdome fiasco after Hurricane Katrina.

So what’s the answer?

How about instead of spending gobs of money to move homeless people around, the residents of Sacramento try accepting that, for now, there are going to be men and women living on the streets. It’s not forever. I do believe plans from the city, county and, hopefully, state will eventually increase the stock of affordable housing and health services. But these things will take time and to pretend otherwise isn’t realistic or productive.

So, yes, sometimes we’re going to have to step over people sleeping on a sidewalk.

And in the meantime, we need real stopgap measures, not just talk of longterm solutions. The city and county should get serious about finding ways to open more year-round shelters and public restrooms so we, the residents of Sacramento, don’t have to step over as much garbage and feces.

And before you cry foul, remember that there are hundreds if not thousands of people who are homeless in Sacramento County – and the likely increase in their ranks says as much about them as it does about the rest of us because their loss has been our gain. In a matter of months, rents have jumped by hundreds of dollars, making just having a roof over one’s head completely unaffordable for a growing population of people. The vacancy rate is at 2 percent or less in much of the county.

This is the bad that has come along with the good for Sacramento, once an nondescript government town that’s now the “new Oakland” or whatever, and in high demand thanks to a new arena, fancy restaurants and coffee shops – and with real estate prices to match.

It is what it is, Sacramento.

I don’t know what San Francisco’s tipping point was for begrudgingly accepting a certain amount of homelessness as part of the landscape, but we certainly seem to be reaching it. Hopefully, not for long.

Erika D. Smith: @Erika_D_Smith

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