In one magnificent page—the back page of the Sunday Forum section, the Sacramento Bee nailed it; pointing out in Jack Ohman’s cartoon, the absurdly dangerous aspects of riding a bike in the Parkway’s Skid Row—Discovery Park to Cal Expo—and in the Bee Editorial the lack of public leadership to effectively address illegal camping and the homeless issue.
Sacramento’s dysfunctional approach to this region’s homeless crisis was supposed to have ended back in 2009.
That was the year the Oprah Winfrey Show spent some time on a soggy American River Parkway, talking to homeless campers while cameras recorded rows of leaky tents framed by the Sacramento skyline.
“What do you miss most about your old life?” the show’s correspondent Lisa Ling asked a 47-year-old woman named Tammy who had been living on the parkway for months because the recession had left her jobless.
“I miss looking like a girl,” Tammy replied, her eyes welling. “I miss smelling like a girl. I don’t like to look and see my hands dirty all the time.”
The nationally televised segment was a civic humiliation. Overnight, Sacramento became a symbol for what happens when elected officials – in this case, county and city – can’t cooperate even in the face of disaster.
After Ling left town, the county Board of Supervisors, the mayor and the City Council vowed to do better, to put aside competing agendas and work together to get homeless people into housing.
Eight years later, homeless people remain camped not just on the parkway, but in streets, sidewalks and parks throughout Sacramento. Housing is increasingly unaffordable, exacerbating the problem. In fact, this month, the results of a headcount conducted earlier this year are expected to show the homeless population is growing.
Meanwhile, the effort to get people off the street is as gridlocked as ever, in a capital city of a major state with more than its share of resources and policy sophistication.
Sacramento Steps Forward, the nonprofit created in 2009 to organize a common mission, is a shadow of its former self. High hopes have devolved into turf wars, bruised egos, pettiness, grandstanding and hyperventilating over pet projects.
And finger-pointing abounds. But this time, it’s glaringly apparent that, of all the players, the Sacramento County supervisors are largely to blame.
Unlike 2009, when the state was suffering a historic downturn, tens of millions of public dollars – perhaps more than $100 million – are available now to help homeless people.
Yet for whatever reason – staff, pride, bad habit – the county has insisted upon leaving that money on the table, with no good explanation and only vague plans to remedy the situation.
Never mind the upbeat talk, just months ago, as the election of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg heralded a new era. And never mind the mayor’s long and seemingly valuable experience as a legislative leader who spent decades addressing homelessness from a statewide perspective.