Sacramento’s muddled homeless strategy

Region employs schizophrenic approach to solving homeless crisis

Last month, the Sacramento City Council put aside $1 million for new homeless programs. The funds will likely be handled by Sacramento Steps Forward, which coordinates the area’s homelessness strategy and dispenses federal grants to groups working toward that cause.

It was a welcome surprise to cover, but also represents just how schizophrenic Sacramento’s approach to our homeless humanitarian crisis has been. For instance, Steps Forward still struggles to front payments to vendors due to a lack of financial support from Sacramento County.

At the same time, the county is the only municipality propping up the Regional Human Rights/Fair Housing Commission, a resource for low-income tenants facing eviction and other crises. On Tuesday, supervisors were expected to inject another $50,000 to keep the commission limping through June. Neighboring cities stopped or greatly reduced their funding.

As for those trying to avoid slipping into homelessness, that’s getting harder, too. Sacramento County recently dismantled its affordable-housing policy in the hopes of enticing residential development. A similar choice faces the city of Sacramento.

But the biggest threat to the area’s most vulnerable might just be a middling sports franchise. Community stakeholders are locked in negotiations over a “community benefits agreement” with the Sacramento Kings and city officials to ensure the downtown arena project doesn’t steamroll the city’s poorest on its way to fruition.

A new sports and entertainment complex could mean 1.5 million square feet of rippling development, so what happens to all the poor and unsheltered folks living within the boom radius?

Ask the 60-plus former residents of the Marshall Hotel. Buoyed by progress on the arena front, Marshall owners realized their decade-long goal to ditch the low-income housing business and transition into a boutique operation that charges market rates. Residents were given relocation cash and sent on their way.

Sacramento Housing Alliance organizing director Tamie Dramer worries the exodus might soon be on for other “single-room occupancy” hotels, often the last option for those facing homelessness. If that’s the case, all the lip service about ending homelessness by 2016 will prove as hollow as the abandoned Sleep Train Arena.