Steinberg’s brilliant idea

Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.

When I heard about Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s plan to have each City Council member come up with at least 100 homeless shelter beds in their district, my reaction was the same as when I listen to a Jimmy Hendrix guitar riff, or enjoy a Freeport Bakery tiramisu or watch former Cleveland Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel and second baseman Roberto Alomar turn an unbelievable double play. Whoa. How in hell do they do that?

Steinberg’s gift is politics, and he is playing at a world-class level. His proposal is brilliant. The biggest obstacle to solving Sacramento’s homeless problem has not been money. We just haven’t been able to agree upon locations for shelters. Everyone wants more homeless shelters, just not in their neighborhood. Every suggested site has a problem. There are already too many homeless people in this area, why invite more? There are no homeless here, so they would be isolated and far from services. This location is on a busy street. That location is on a quiet street. On and on.

So nothing gets done. And meanwhile, it’s so cold outside. Why should our fellow citizens have to sleep on hard sidewalks, along the river or behind our buildings? Why should they spend the night outside in the rain, in the wind, in the smoke? Why should they be left vulnerable to illness and violence?

Homelessness is a national disgrace. We gave the rich more tax breaks, but we can’t find shelters for our homeless. And homelessness is also a Sacramento disgrace, when we can’t agree on locations for homeless shelters.

Steinberg’s 100-bed proposal will require each elected official to make a tough call, most likely a controversial one. If a council member can’t suggest a location, the city should identify city-owned land or work out some arrangement with a private landlord to ensure that we have 100 beds in each district. We need to move heaven and earth to bring shelter to those in need.

According to Google Maps, SN&R’s office is a 12-minute walk from the shelter on Railroad Drive. And unlike some of my business and residential neighbors, I supported the city opening a shelter in our neighborhood. Why?

It’s true that I am a bleeding heart liberal, but I also believe the shelter in our neighborhood has made things better. Since the shelter opened, there have been fewer homeless people sleeping in our doorway when I arrive in the morning. When I mentioned this to Del Paso Boulevard Partnership Executive Director David Plag, he said it was the increased security that came with the shelter that had made the difference. Fair enough.

But at the end of the day, we won’t have homeless people sleeping in our doorways and on our streets only when we provide a safe place for them to sleep. In our North Sacramento district, I applaud council member Allen Warren for showing real leadership and taking an incredible amount of political heat from the shelter. While it is located in neighboring District 3, the shelter’s impact and controversy has mainly been in Warren’s district. Each of our council members should follow his lead and step up.

Creating 800 more beds for the homeless in Sacramento would be like listening to a Hendrix riff, while watching a Vizquel-Alomar double play, while eating a Freeport Bakery tiramisu. An impressive achievement.

Correction: The column incorrectly stated which City Council district includes the homeless shelter on Railroad Drive. It is in District 3, represented by Jeff Harris. SN&R regrets the error.