The Politics of Homelessness

Are playing out in Sacramento right now, as this article from the Sacramento Bee reports.

An excerpt.

It’s becoming clear why the City of Sacramento and County of Sacramento are not effectively working together to combat the homelessness crisis in the region.

Even though the need for homeless services is spiking in nearly every local community, the County of Sacramento has been rebuffing Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s proposal that the city and county pool more resources to get more than 3,000 people off local streets and into housing over the next three years.

Where is the disconnect?

It turns out county resistance is an inside job. Not many people know who Nav Gill and Paul Lake are. But these highly paid senior staffers – the county CEO and the head of the county Social Services Agency, respectively – both earn more than $200,000 a year and have been the primary obstacles to forging a concentrated city-county homeless effort in Sacramento.

At an Oct. 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, where the proposal was supposed to be discussed in earnest, it was these senior staffers and others who further delayed any county action on partnering with the city until the Nov. 7 supervisors meeting.

Meanwhile, it’s getting colder and the rainy season is on the way, troubling developments for people who live outdoors. As The Bee’s Brad Branan reported last week: “The most recent homeless count released in July found 3,665 people living without permanent shelter in Sacramento County and 2,000 of those people living outside. The total number of homeless was the highest number the county has ever recorded.”

Steinberg has been sounding the alarm for a year. Along with several shorter-term measures, including the controversial shelters he is proposing in the already impoverished north Sacramento neighborhoods, he is pushing for a coordinated city-county effort to combat the growing need.

The city is poised to invest $64 million over nearly four years through a federal “Whole Person Care” grant awarded earlier this year. The money, which includes matching city funds and investments from local hospitals, will pay for a comprehensive outreach program that will connect homeless people with mental and health services designed to keep them out of emergency rooms and help get them ready for permanent housing.

But there is a catch: The Whole Person Care grant cannot directly pay for substance abuse and mental health services needed to keep people off the streets. Those are provided by the county, and the county’s current overburdened system is not prepared to handle the potential influx of people.

For months, Steinberg has been trying to get the county to commit to expanding those services, but the county has been reluctant, saying it does not have the money and that county officials already have plans in place for tackling the homeless issue.

Steinberg has been asking the county to reallocate around $54 million over three years to complement the Whole Person Care grant program, which has a use-it-or-lose-it clock ticking on its federal funding component. That, of course, is a large chunk of money from the county, but it also represents Sacramento’s best chance to make a dent in what has become a serious health and safety issue.

Other California cities have seen deadly Hepatitis A outbreaks because of poor sanitary conditions in their expanding homeless populations. The American River has contained hazardous levels of E. coli bacteria that exceed federal safety standards. The cause, in part, is human waste from a virtual village of people living in illegal campsites along the lower stretch.

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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