'More than shelter.' Sacramento pursues multiple strategies on homelessness
First in a series on Sacramento’s efforts to alleviate the crisis of homelessness
Much of the recent discussion around homelessness in Sacramento has focused on the need to build short-term emergency shelters. Such service-rich Rehousing Shelters (also known as Navigation Centers) are a crucial piece of the strategy cities throughout California are using to deal with the surge in people living on the streets. Sacramento recently opened one in the former Capitol Park Hotel downtown and has plans for two more within a year — one in Meadowview and one under the W/X Freeway near Alhambra and Broadway.
But short-term shelters are far from the only thing we’re doing. Since I became your mayor, the City of Sacramento has launched major initiatives to improve the mental and physical health of homeless people and help them find transitional or permanent housing. We have also funded programs to alleviate the impacts of homeless camps on our businesses and residents.
At the same time, we are addressing our housing shortage by making it easier to build new affordable projects and by laying the groundwork for an affordable housing trust fund that can help finance construction. We passed an ordinance to prevent rent gouging and unfair evictions.
We call it the Continuum of Care. In the coming weeks, my office will be writing individual stories on each of these efforts in a series called “More than Shelter” here on EngageSac.org.
Our comprehensive homeless healthcare program, Whole Person Care, uses assertive outreach to connect people with doctors, mental health professionals and housing service providers. It has been funded by up to $64 million in combined grants from the state, city and local health care providers. The program has served 1,460 people it was launched in June 2017.
We reallocated 450 federal Housing Choice Vouchers specifically to serve people experiencing homelessness. Participants can use these vouchers to pay private landlords.
In October 2018, the City Council voted to slash most impact fees to zero for affordable housing construction. We’ve also streamlined regulations, and we’re making it easier to build accessory dwelling units.
A new ordinance limiting annual rent increases and requiring “just cause” for evictions took effect in September 2019. The state has since adopted similar protections for tenants.
We have coordinated with the state and county to dedicate $44 million raised by the Mental Health Services Act, which I authored while serving in the Legislature, to provide mental health treatment to the homeless population.
We’ve contracted with the non-profit Downtown Streets Team to employ teams of recently homeless or still-homeless individuals to beautify the streets downtown, in the Broadway corridor and in North Sacramento.
Since October 2018, the City of Sacramento has partnered with First Step Communities to provide an array of services out of a county-owned building in the River District. The facility also offers bathroom access from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The bathrooms were used 9,075 times in August, the latest figure available. People can come to the center for help obtaining identification, medical and mental health services, and permanent housing. First Step reports that 173 people have been housed.
The Council also voted in October 2018 to create the “Hot Shot” program, which sends a cleanup team to respond to calls about human waste and needles on public or private property in the River District.
We dedicated nearly $500,000 of our new state funding this year specifically to help young people ages 18-24 who are experiencing homelessness. A portion of this money was used to create a Host Home Program administered by the Sacramento LGBT Center. Private residents take a young person into their home and provide a bedroom, food and emotional support.
There is no simple answer to ending homelessness. People wind up on the street for many different reasons. Drug addiction and mental illness are major factors, as are high housing prices and a lack of affordable housing construction.
Addressing this problem is my top priority, both as your mayor and as the co-chair of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s task force on housing and homelessness. In my statewide role, I am calling on the state to establish a legal right for everyone to live under a roof. It’s time to stop our tacit acceptance of thousands of people living outdoors in dangerous and unsanitary conditions.
Make sure to check back on EngageSac.org to read more about our local and statewide work in the coming installments of “More than Shelter.”