A cold reminder

Loaves & Fishes struggles to meet increased demand amid winter and withdrawal of county sanctuary program

Sacramento’s best-known homeless charity is reminding the public that there are more people on the streets than ever—and fewer places to keep them warm and alive.

Sacramento County’s most recent point-in-time homeless survey was conducted over the course of two January nights last year. The results, released over the summer, showed a jarring 19% increase in homelessness, with approximately 3,900 people living without shelter on any given night.

Last week, Sacramento Loaves & Fishes announced that it was in “urgent need” of financial support due to increased demand for its services, which include everything from hot meals and survival gear to a drop-in preschool and legal aid. The charity is facing a run on its services at the same time that local government has pulled back.

“I hope that the community can continue to help us provide survival services to men, women, and children experiencing homelessness in Sacramento,” Loaves & Fishes executive director Noel Kammermann said in a statement.

Sacramento County decided to pull the plug on its winter sanctuary program this fall after eight years, citing escalating costs. The program compensated 30 to 40 houses of worship to open their doors and provide cots and hot meals to approximately 100 single adults each night for four winter months.

Meanwhile, the city of Sacramento recently closed its Railroad Avenue triage shelter that could house approximately 200 people at a time. While the city has outlined a strategy to shelter some 850 people, none of those resources will be available before summer.

The life-and-death implications of a lack of shelter aren’t theoretical. According to the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, 132 homeless people died in 2018, the most since the countywide tallies began in 2003 and a 54% rise since 2013. Hypothermia killed one homeless person, while six died of upper respiratory causes, according to the coalition’s analysis of coroner data.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court decided last month to leave in place a ruling against prosecuting homeless people for sleeping outdoors when there isn’t enough shelter to accommodate them. That means Sacramento and other jurisdictions could face renewed scrutiny over what legal enforcement they apply to an escalating humanitarian crisis.

Outdoor conditions caused the deaths of three people during the winter of 2016-17, one of whom died on the steps of City Hall.

Loaves & Fishes relies on public and private donations rather than government funds. Its development director, Kala Haley-Clark, said that donors are especially needed at this moment and directed the public to sacloaves.org/donate.php.

“Not enough of our neighbors know just how much we do for our guests, or how much we rely on our supporters to do what we do,” she said in the release.