Downtown’s Homeless

The abundance of homeless downtown is a large reason few, who don’t have to, venture there, as this article from the Sacramento Bee, makes clear.

An excerpt.

Good intentions can come at a cost, such as having to smell urine or see human feces on a daily basis.

Good intentions can scare away customers and damage livelihoods. They can bring vandalism and theft to businesses run by hardworking people who nevertheless feel compassion for those committing crimes against them.

The city of Sacramento, led by its new mayor, Darrell Steinberg, has made homeless services one of its biggest priorities – if not the biggest. A champion of the poor and those suffering from mental illness, Steinberg is driven by good intentions.

“This is a moral issue,” Steinberg has said more than once of his motivations to do more for homeless people.

Steinberg’s mission to help those living on the streets took on even more urgency after the deaths of two homeless men outside City Hall in January. Both had sought shelter there in violation of the city’s anti-camping ordinance. One man, identified as Michael Nunes, 50, had been hospitalized after falling and hitting his head the day before he died, according to other homeless people who knew him.

The mayor described himself as “heartbroken” by the deaths. “I have been and continue to be hellbent on making this situation much better,” Steinberg said in January.

After the deaths, Steinberg pushed to open another emergency warming center, one that houses 40 people overnight, in a city building at 904 11th Street. It’s a block from council chambers, where city officials have been berated for more than a year by homeless advocates exhorting those in elected office to do more. It’s also a block from Cesar Chavez Plaza, which should be the front porch of downtown Sacramento but isn’t.

Instead, Cesar Chavez Plaza is ground zero for the societal malady Steinberg is making the cornerstone of his political life. Created in the classic tradition of the city plaza and bordered on one side by City Hall and the stately Citizen Hotel on the other, Cesar Chavez Plaza has become the de facto staging ground for the warming center.

Don’t believe me? Visit it for yourself. You’ll see people essentially camping there during the daytime. You’ll see a lot of pit bulls. You’ll see pouches of discarded personal belongings of inmates released from the nearby county jail. You’ll see people sitting at tables or napping on the ground until it’s time to walk a block to line up for the shelter, which will remain open until the end of March.

Cesar Chavez Plaza long has had its share of homeless people, but some downtown residents say that population has increased since the warming center opened. “The sheer amount of people that congregate and hang out downtown has gotten worse,” said Liezet Arnold, who owns a floral shop near the Citizen Hotel. “I have to step over human feces every day. I have to step over people to get into my business. It’s not a good feeling.”

Arnold has been in business downtown for nearly 20 years. She said downtown is as challenged as she’s ever seen it with its homeless population.

It’s not just the compassionate policies of Steinberg and his council colleagues causing the erosion of Cesar Chavez Plaza and the sanitary challenges of surrounding streets and alleys. Record rainfall and flooding have pushed homeless people off the rivers and into downtown. Some wonder how much Prop. 47, the statewide initiative that reduced some drug felonies to misdemeanors so that prisoners could be paroled and ease California’s overcrowded prisons, is affecting communities.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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