Erika D. Smith

North Sacramento has a homeless shelter. Now it's your turn, South Land Park

Just off Sutterville Road, not too far from William Land Park and the Sacramento Zoo, there's a stretch of grassy, city-owned land that’s just sitting empty.

To the east, there's a quiet residential neighborhood full of sprawling homes with well-kept yards and inviting swimming pools. To, the west, there's Riverside Boulevard, and beyond it, there's I-5 and the Sacramento River. Still, it's rather peaceful.

As far as I’m concerned, this would be the perfect place for a Sprung homeless shelter — one of the three pop-up tent-like structures that, last week, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Sacramento City Council members said they hope to open by September.

Another prime location would be a city-owned parcel at the busy intersection of Howe Avenue and Fair Oaks Boulevard, in the shadow of a Starbucks and just across the American River from East Sacramento. There’s also a perfect lot in North Natomas, just off Club Center Drive near Natomas Boulevard and near a Dollar Tree and a fire station.

Would the Sprung tents be unseemly and fail to fit the character of each neighborhood? Probably. Would more than a few residents, wary of knowing as many as 200 homeless people are living nearby, scream bloody murder? Absolutely.

But that’s kind of the point.

For months now, the residents of North Sacramento have had to contend with a 200-bed triage shelter, providing much-needed housing and services to homeless men and women, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in a warehouse on Railroad Drive. And now, after plans fell through to close it in March and then in May, the city has said it will remain open through the end of August, using $1 million from Sutter Health.

Many residents, particularly from the notoriously NIMBYish Woodlake neighborhood, didn't want the shelter to open in the first place. The upside is it hasn’t turned out to be quite as bad as some had surely imagined.

Thanks to a stepped-up police presence, crime has dropped by almost 50 percent in the neighborhoods closest to the shelter. Most of the homeless people now living there had been sleeping on the streets and along the American River Parkway for years. Some have now moved on to permanent housing for the first time in decades.

But Larry Glover-Meade, president of the Woodlake Neighborhood Association, is still miffed. He told The Bee: "We've been asking for months, 'What is the citywide response to the homeless crisis? Are the city's poor areas destined to burden the responsibility for the entire city? We all need to play a part."

He’s not wrong.

Homelessness is no longer a problem that's limited to struggling neighborhoods in North Sacramento, South Sacramento or even in downtown and midtown near Loaves & Fishes. Increasingly, the men, women and children ending up on our streets or sleeping in their cars are there because they've been priced out of housing and because they've exhausted whatever support system of friends and family they had.

This is why we're seeing a growing homeless population in well-to-do neighborhoods, such as Land Park, and in other communities in the Sacramento County, such as Citrus Heights and Rancho Cordova. These aren't homeless people who have migrated there. They are from there.

Unfortunately, this is a problem that's likely to get worse long before it gets better. By the last lowball count, about 3,600 people lack permanent housing in Sacramento County alone. Meanwhile, rents and home prices continue to rise faster than wages, the Legislature continues to debate and shamelessly punt on long-term solutions to California's housing catastrophe, and Gov. Jerry Brown, protective of his $8.8 billion surplus, continues to short-change short-term solutions.

Homelessness is, at the very least, a citywide problem in Sacramento, and so it’s about time that Steinberg and the City Council do more than offer lip service to the notion that the entire city should have some skin in the game for solving it.

So, yes, put a Sprung shelter in South Land Park. And then put another one in North Natomas and another one near East Sacramento.

Fair is fair.

Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith.
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