Parkway Organizations Recognizing Illegal Camping Issue

Ever since our founding in 2003—with illegal camping a central focus of our nonprofit—we have tried to get the other Parkway organizations on board recognizing and addressing this issue and over the past couple of years, it is finally happening.

Better late than never.

This article from the executive director of the American River Parkway Foundation in the Sacramento Bee is excellent.

An excerpt.

The American River Parkway Foundation strongly disagrees with Erika D. Smith’s column (“County’s parkway plan to roust the homeless is waste of $5 million,” Insight, July 13), but agrees with her earlier piece about threats to the parkway.

More than a natural setting, the American River Parkway is an economic driver for the Sacramento region, generating $364 million, according to a 2006 report. It is also a tourist destination with 8 million visits a year – twice as many as Yosemite National Park – and is on numerous top 10 lists for cycling and running.

Marathoners, professional bicyclists and triathletes train on the parkway’s 23 miles of trail for events that generate between $10 million and $15 million in hotel taxes. In a recent Sacramento State poll done for Valley Vision, the parkway ranked as the best civic amenity; 56 percent said that parks and trails were most in need of investment.

The sad reality is that the parkway is being destroyed by illegal campers. Cottonwood groves are being cut down to create makeshift shelters. Fires have consumed more than 500 acres in the past two years. Camps are now scattered up and down the entire parkway.

Posted in ARPPS, Homelessness

Political Will to Fight Homelessness

This is a pretty good article from Sacramento’s Mayor in the Sacramento Bee, and we hope he is able to provide the leadership to make this happen, as the leader of the largest community in the region and the community with the most homeless.

An excerpt.

Our community can do so much better. We can. And we will, together.

The report released this week estimating more than 2,000 people are living unsheltered in Sacramento County – hunkered down in our streets and alleys, in our bushes and riverbanks – is a public health crisis that demands immediate, decisive action, and a pioneering approach to city-county collaboration.

The toll reaches beyond the hundreds of souls, embodied in these numbers, subsisting in degraded conditions. The impacts reverberate across our community – wearing down businesses, straining law enforcement, and weighing on neighborhoods – undercutting our shared sense of humanity.

I frankly am tired of attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies celebrating marginal improvements in our ability to provide appropriate shelter and services for people living homeless because of untreated mental illness or substance use disorders or residual trauma from having served in our armed forces. We have the resources and capacity to dramatically alter this trajectory. The question is: Do we have the political will?

Let me start with the efforts the city of Sacramento is undertaking to address our homeless issues head-on. Our goal is to move 2,000 people off the streets in the next three years – and to prevent 2,000 additional people from becoming homeless.

▪  We will invest $64 million over four years into a service model known as “whole-person care.” This is money we’ve raised through a federal grant, blended with matching funds from the city and hospitals, and it will allow us to forge an approach to care far different in substance and intensity than what we typically can provide.

Outreach workers will head out daily, hourly if needed, to build the relationships necessary to get people living on the streets with mental illness, addiction and other disabling conditions to agree to intervention and treatment. Caseworkers will wrap them in individualized care, connecting them with medical services, temporary shelter and permanent housing. Over four years, we’re looking to move 3,250 homeless people into coordinated care that extends 24/7, and 1,625 people into housing.

▪  Our aim is “whatever-it-takes” care – an approach that has proven effective – and that means we need more places for people to live once we connect them with services. In partnership with the county and Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, we will create 1,755 new housing opportunities in the next three years for people who are homeless, providing whole-person care clients with housing vouchers and subsidized rentals.

▪  We also need more temporary shelters that provide services beyond a bed and meal. My staff is finalizing a proposal to use $3.25 million in homeless services funding to expand emergency shelter space, including centers that provide round-the-clock triage services.

▪  Tackling these complex issues with compassion and humanity doesn’t mean we abandon the rule of law. We’ve expanded hours for the specialized police units that focus on our homeless population, and our officers will be aggressive in addressing criminal and anti-social behavior.

These are concrete efforts that will make a tangible difference. But to bring them to full effect we need a regional approach, not bound by geographic silos.

The county has stepped forward with its own sizable investments, approving $6.5 million in new services for the homeless. Rather than work on parallel tracks, we should consolidate resources so we are sharing data, integrating programs, amplifying impacts and weaving a true network of care.

Posted in Government, Homelessness

County Homeless Initiative

Looks like a pretty strong push—though their record so far on illegal camping in the Parkway is abysmal, hope springs eternal—noted on Sacramento County News.

An excerpt.

With the approval of the recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18 on June 14, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors highlighted the County’s commitment to addressing homeless initiatives with an additional $6.2 million directed toward those efforts.​

The enhanced funding comes on top of the already more than $40 million Sacramento County spends annually on homeless services.

“While the County addressed a number of service and program issues with enhanced funding for Fiscal Year 2017-18, our biggest additional investment overall was directed towards efforts to reduce homelessness,” said Board Chairman Don Nottoli, Supervisor, District 5.

As the major funder of homeless services—including shelters and transitional housing, re-housing assistance—as well as the largest provider of social services, Sacramento County has committed to working in partnership with government partners and community stakeholders to continue to develop and deliver the most impactful solutions to homelessness.

Following several public workshops in 2016 and 2017, the Board of Supervisors endorsed the following initiatives for FY 2017-18:

County Initiative #1: Improve Family Crisis Response and Shelters

  • This initiative seeks to shelter more families annually by helping them connect to assistance and return to housing more quickly. The new shelter system will prioritize unsheltered homeless families and improve access for all homeless families through reduced entry requirements and greater accommodation of families with complex needs (such as those with health or behavioral health needs).
  • By using more flexible County general fund dollars, diversion services will be funded to help some families keep their existing housing and avoid a shelter stay altogether.
  • Recognizing that some families may benefit from more long-term support, the County will also fund a small transitional housing program offering employment and recovery supports for 19 families experiencing homelessness.

County Initiative #2: Preserve Mather Community Campus

  • ​Operating on a unique County-owned property, Mather Community Campus (MCC) has played an important role providing transitional housing, employment services, and recovery support for individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Sacramento since 1996.
  • In 2016, the Volunteers of America (VOA) served over 885 individuals, families, former foster youth, and veterans through eight residential (267 units) and nonresidential programs. In addition to offering life skills, employment preparation and vocational training, VOA currently engages with over 200 businesses in its job placement services.
  • This initiative identifies funding to continue operations at MCC.

County Initiative #3: Full Service Re-housing Shelter

  • ​This initiative seeks to reach persons experiencing homelessness who have complex behavioral and/or physical health issues that often prevent them from engaging in shelter services.
  • The shelter would include 24-hour dormitory accommodations for up to 75 individuals at a time, with consideration for partners, pets and possessions, and include meals, showers and laundry facilities.
  • On-site case management would focus from day one on connecting participants to stable income, public benefits and permanent housing as well as to essential health services.
  • As proposed, the Full Service Rehousing Shelter would serve up to 250 to 300 persons annually.

County Initiative 4: Flexible Supportive Re-Housing program

  • ​The County proposes a new Flexible Supportive Re-housing Program (FSRP) that would provide highly flexible re-housing and stabilization services to persons who have experienced long-term homelessness, who frequently utilize costly County services (such as behavioral health, emergency response, or jail), but who could, with the right assistance, stabilize in permanent supportive housing.
  • The program would provide a highly flexible solution, employing proactive engagement, “whatever it takes services,” and ongoing housing subsidies to engage property owners and stably rehouse the target population.
  • As proposed, FSRP would re-house up to 250 individual and family households in the first year of the program.
Posted in Government, Homelessness

Governor Brown & Governor Brown

Both the current Governor and his father had and are having, a huge impact on California, as this excellent story from Wall Street Journal examines.

An excerpt.

On a recent drive from the East Coast back home to California, I found myself thinking about four men. The first was President Dwight Eisenhower, who championed the notion of continental superhighways before signing, in 1956, the law that authorized the Interstate Highway System. It reflected an American passion for the open road, as symbolized in popular culture by the ad jingle “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet” and Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road,” written in 1951.

The second man was Wallace Libby Hardison. In 1870s Pennsylvania, he and a partner, Lyman Stewart, successfully wildcatted for oil until John D. Rockefeller put everyone like them out of business. Undaunted, the pair left for the land of opportunity—California—where ambition and industry were all a man needed to succeed. They struck oil in what is today Ventura County and founded the Union Oil Co., later known as Unocal. A few years on, Hardison and another Maine transplant, Nathan Weston Blanchard, gambled big by buying 400 acres and planting citrus. Thus was born the Limoneira Company, now one of North America’s largest growers of lemons and avocados.

The third man who came to mind was Edmund G. “Pat” Brown. As governor from 1959-67, his ambition was to make California the most livable state and thereby dethrone New York as the nation’s most populous. To that end, he turned the Golden State’s public university system into the world’s finest; built roads, bridges and other infrastructure; and constructed a water-delivery system that ensured adequate supply everywhere, from California’s agricultural center, to its coastal cities, to its deserts.

By the end of 1962—days before the governor’s second inaugural—enough Americans had moved here for him to declare victory and ring a bell kicking off a 72-hour statewide celebration. “My son asked me what I hoped to accomplish as governor,” Brown once said. “I told him, essentially, to make life more comfortable for people, as far as government can.”

That son who’d asked him was the fourth person I thought of while driving: Jerry Brown, California’s present governor. I was struck by the chasm that separated him from his father, Eisenhower and Hardison. Those three men believed government’s role was to provide Americans wider opportunities to pursue individual happiness—which worked particularly well in California, where there was more liberty than infrastructure. Jerry Brown, by contrast, appears to believe that happiness is a collective notion and that the endpoint of helping “as far as government can” is visible only through the Hubble telescope.

Take his insistence that California spend unknown billions of dollars on a bullet train connecting Southern and Northern California. Every poll shows that few people intend to ride it. Why? Because taking your own car will be faster and cheaper than driving to a station, parking, riding with stops along the way, and then renting a car or hailing an Uber at your destination. And anyway, tickets to fly between L.A. and San Francisco—which the train won’t even reach directly—can be had for less than $100. Why ride a rail that’s routed not along the state’s scenic coast (already served by Amtrak’s Coast Starlight) but through its distinctly unlovely interior?

An even more utopian folly is Mr. Brown’s determination to establish California as a model for climate-change politics and policy. It goes without saying that one state—or even one country—cannot reduce carbon emissions enough to benefit the climate in a meaningful way. The true consequence of the governor’s ubergreen policies is to reverse his father’s migration, at least for productive citizens and businesses. They’re leaving California for states where energy is cheaper, taxes are lower, and the regulatory burden is lighter. Middle-aged people making $100,000 to $200,000 a year are the largest cohort of those moving out, according to researchers Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox.

Two years ago, Mr. Brown signed a bill requiring state-regulated utilities to produce, by 2030, 50% of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar. Although those are highly subsidized, Californians still pay about 50% more for power than the national average. Gasoline is no better. The moment my car crossed the state line from Arizona, a gallon of gas instantly cost a dollar more, and nearly twice what I’d paid in Louisiana. The higher price can be blamed on not only taxes but the cost of refining gas to California’s exacting specifications, a 25-year-old antipollution program that may well have outlived its need.

California’s gas taxes were, until recently, a mere 30% higher than the nationwide average, yet its streets and highways tend to be in poor shape compared with those in other states. So in April the governor strong-armed the Legislature into raising gas taxes 12 cents a gallon and annual vehicle fees $50. The extra $5 billion a year will barely address a backlog of repairs estimated at more than $100 billion. And there’s no ironclad guarantee the funds will be allocated to road improvements at all. Yet the governor dismissed his opponents as unworthy of argument. “Roads require money to fix,” Mr. Brown said. “The freeloaders—I’ve had enough of them.”

Posted in Government, History, Politics

Homeless Count

This article in the Sacramento Bee highlights some important information from the recent count, two facts being: 70% of Sacramento Region homeless are natives and most are in the city of Sacramento with large concentration in the Parkway.

An excerpt.

Shawn Porter woke up in William Land Park on Friday and smoked a Marlboro Red for breakfast not far from the zoo where he worked selling popcorn as a kid.

A few miles away, behind a south Sacramento dumpster, Steve Devlin used the morning light to search for a set of dice his displeased lady-friend chucked into the bushes at his street camp close to the mobile home park where his parents once lived.

Deja Sturdevan’s day began by pushing past prickly branches guarding her sleeping quarters in shrubbery near a heavily trafficked boulevard in Antelope, blocks from a house she said she lived in for 14 years with her ex-husband before divorce and drugs put her in the weeds.

“This is my neighborhood,” said Sturdevan, blond hair in a ponytail and nails painted with glittery polish. “I’m comfortable here.”

This trio are among the 3,665 people living without permanent shelter in Sacramento County, according to a new count released Monday by Sacramento Steps Forward, the agency that coordinates local efforts to aid the homeless.

Homelessness rose by a startling 30 percent from 2,822 people the last time the transient population was counted in 2015, it said. It is the highest number of people living without permanent housing Sacramento has ever recorded.

About 2,000 of those counted by the survey are living outside, marking another first: More people are now living in the elements than in shelters or other emergency housing, the reverse of previous years.

The number of unsheltered homeless in the county skyrocketed by 85 percent in recent years, making up nearly half of the increase in overall numbers. About 800 of those are chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for more than a year or have had multiple bouts of homelessness in the past three years, and have a mental, physical or developmental disability that keeps them from working.

“This is not just a sobering report, this is a damning report,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg at a Monday press conference. “This report is a call to action, no excuses.”

Porter, Devlin and Sturdevan highlight a trend among the long-term homeless people who spend nights in the open: The majority are from here, often living in familiar areas where they grew up or have ties to the community. Sacramento Steps Forward has found 70 percent of people it comes in contact with say they are from the city where they are currently sleeping – whether it’s Sacramento, a surrounding suburb or the unincorporated part of the county.

“It’s important to own that these people on your street are your people,” said Ryan Loofbourrow, CEO of Sacramento Steps Forward. “It’s easier to think this is a tragedy that has come to us.”

Because more homeless people are staying close to their former homes, their numbers – and visibility – are growing outside of Sacramento’s urban core and the American River Parkway. More are in residential areas and suburbs that previously had few people living outdoors. …

The numbers are taken from a single-night tally of homeless people counted by volunteers. The biennial count, required for federal funding, is meant to provide a point-in-time snapshot of life on the streets. Sacramento Steps Forward receives about $19 million in annual funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Loofbourrow said.

The one-night count is also used to estimate overall numbers of homeless people in the county for the entire year – higher numbers than the one-night count. The previous count estimated that 7,619 households would experience homelessness at some point during 2016 – 1,844 of them families with children.

The suburban sprawl of homelessness hasn’t lessened the concentration of people living along the rivers and downtown, where transient populations have long bedded down and where most homeless people remain. More than 60 percent of homeless people in the county were found in the city of Sacramento.

Volunteers who worked on the homeless count reported dense clusters of transients along the levees and Garden Highway. They counted 363 tents, three times as many as during the previous tally. That rise was likely due to people driven off the American River itself by heavy flooding over the winter, Loofbourrow said. The week before the count took place, flooding was extreme and people who likely were living deep in the wooded areas around the river were forced into more visible areas, adding numbers to the count, he said.

The migration from waterways hit Discovery Park and the area around Cal Expo the hardest, the report states.

Posted in ARPPS, Homelessness

Fixing the Parkway

The article in the Sacramento Bee is good, but lacking a bit in the solution side. The current strategy—which this article changes minimally—of removing illegal campers from the Parkway is not working and, in fact, because it is a de facto approval of illegal camping, illegal camping has increased in the Parkway.

The article mentions sweeps with social workers accompanying the rangers and that is a good idea, but without a place to safely shelter people, even those who don’t express any interest in changing their homeless status, the sweeps accomplish little.

What is needed is a large secure area capable of sheltering 2,000 plus homeless people in a combination outdoor come-as-you-are setting along with an indoor social program transitioning out of homelessness setting; and this approach is successfully modeled by Haven for Hope in San Antonio.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

The American River Parkway continues to suffer under the pressure of unsanctioned camping, prompting the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors to consider bold action.

To understand what is at issue, one need only visit the parkway’s lower reaches, especially the Woodlake area near the Highway 160 crossing.

I and others regularly see numerous campsites, both occupied and abandoned, with tarps, mattresses and tents. Household garbage is strewn across otherwise pristine habitat and in large piles near campsites and trails. Aggressive dogs roam off-leash around campsites, along hiking trails and on the main asphalt cycling path. There is evidence of fire, such as large burn scars and dead stands of cottonwood, oak and other trees.

There are bicycle “chop shops” with dozens of sorted bike frames and wheels. And there are scattered makeshift latrines, most commonly five-gallon buckets with soiled toilet paper nearby, and hypodermic needles, glass marijuana pipes and other drug paraphernalia.

Unfortunately, this is the “environment” that more and more of us know as the American River Parkway.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to debate adjustments to the county budget so we can achieve a safer, cleaner parkway while reducing impacts of homelessness in adjacent neighborhoods. I hope to hear from my constituents who, like me, believe we can simultaneously express compassion for people in need as well as for the parkway we love.

I have proposed significantly increasing multi-agency staffing, in part a response to past failed deployments and also to complement a set of initiatives the board has adopted to help the homeless. My proposal establishes a series of “beats” along the 23-mile parkway, each with a minimum number of rangers, maintenance workers and animal control personnel. Case managers could also be assigned to these units to offer mental health, veterans and youth services.

In the past, a team of rangers and maintenance staff went location to location along the parkway, leaving areas previously patrolled or cleaned susceptible to reoccupation. For the most part, this was done without social service coordination. It doesn’t work and needs to be replaced with something that does.

Some ask the reasonable question: “Where will homeless people go if they vacate parkway campsites?” We can finally respond that they will soon have more shelter and service options.

During recent budget hearings, the board unanimously approved funding for new initiatives to better serve more homeless people, including a new full-service shelter that welcomes pets, partners and possessions, the concerns most often expressed when someone refuses assistance. This first-of- its-kind “low-barrier” option is envisioned as a place for people to stabilize and be introduced to critical mental health and addiction resources.

Posted in Homelessness

County Discusses Parkway

I listened to this discussion outlined in this Sacramento Bee article and was reminded of how difficult it is for government to manage at the ground level and how much better the Parkway would be under management of a nonprofit organization, as Central Park in New York City is, something we wrote about in our research report: The American River Parkway, Governance, Ecoregionalism and Heritage: A Vision & Policy Primer, Nonprofit Daily Management, Regional Thinking and the Preservation of Our Heritage.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

One thing is clear from Sacramento County’s discussion Tuesday about safety and homelessness in the American River Parkway and adjacent neighborhoods: Residents, business owners and homeless advocates are fed up with the status quo.

A day after a new report documented the rapid growth of Sacramento’s homeless population, county supervisors spent several hours discussing options for increasing patrols and debris removal on the 23-mile stretch of the river parkway and in county suburbs such as Carmichael and Arden Arcade. But the Board of Supervisors ultimately delayed a decision until August, when it may have a better grasp of how the county may scrape together the millions of dollars necessary to fund new efforts.

Homeless camps were more visible last winter as heavy rains forced people out of the brush and onto paths and into surrounding neighborhoods. Over the last few months, some cyclists have reported being attacked by dogs or hit by rocks by men they believed were homeless.

Sacramento State professor and frequent parkway user Kevin Wehr told the board he was assaulted less than two weeks ago on the bike path next to the Blue Diamond factory in Sacramento by someone who was obviously mentally ill. The path serves as a popular link between downtown and the American River Parkway.

“So if I – a fit, 6-foot-tall … male – am not safe, I really don’t know who is,” he said.

Fear of using one of the county’s premier public amenities colored many of the speakers’ comments. Nearly 30 people spoke during public comment and dozens submitted letters before the meeting. Residents called for stronger efforts in the parkway, more enforcement in neighborhoods and concern that any increase in law enforcement will be ineffective without added shelter space.

Joan Burke, director of advocacy for homeless services nonprofit Loaves & Fishes, said people are living on the parkway because they have nowhere else to go. She and other homeless advocates said the county was too focused on clearing out homeless people without finding services and housing for them.

“Law enforcement does not address homelessness, and it’s extremely expensive,” she said. “I would ask you to consider spending the $5 million to provide additional emergency shelter for homeless people. That money could provide a 200-bed shelter and that would remove people from the parkway.”

Supervisor Phil Serna, county staff and other supervisors responded by saying the county had just approved $6.5 million in new services for homeless people. That includes a full-service shelter that would provide beds for 75 people a night and help homeless people move into permanent housing, but it wouldn’t open until 2018 at the earliest.

Serna wants increased parkway enforcement to coincide with the opening of the shelter.

Supervisors have been hearing anecdotally for months that there are more people on the streets than ever before and the population has expanded from downtown and the parkway into suburban neighborhoods. Released Monday, Sacramento Steps Forward’s biennial point-in-time count of Sacramento County’s homeless population backed up residents’ claims – the number of homeless people without shelter jumped 30 percent to 3,665 people in the last two years, spread throughout the county.

During June’s budget hearings, Serna proposed multimillion-dollar increases for the county parks budget to deploy more rangers and sanitation workers on the parkway. Supervisor Susan Peters countered that homeless campers would move into the surrounding neighborhoods, which have already seen an influx of people on the streets. Supervisor Don Nottoli suggested a compromise, with some money going to the parkway and some to the neighborhoods.

Posted in ARPPS, Government, Homelessness, Nonprofit Management