West Sac housing project’s problems linger after ending

Participants in the West Sacramento Bridge to Housing program still have a long way to go

A program to move homeless people from the river in West Sacramento and into long-term housing officially ended last month. But for many participants, the journey to permanent housing is far from over.

Despite the best efforts of the West Sacramento Bridge to Housing pilot project, as of March 20, only 20 of the original 65 enrolled in the program had a place to live.

Evelyn Lamb is one of those still looking for housing.

The pilot project wasn’t perfect. Lamb said she felt “dehumanized” on moving day. Later, when she and others arrived at West Sac’s Old Town Inn, where the group stayed while they received services and searched for permanent housing, the bugs came out.

Literally. And it wasn’t just a few cockroaches or bedbugs, but lots of them. Lamb said they were in the carpets, dropping from the lights and nesting behind the electrical sockets.

Program directors say they called in an exterminator, who ripped up carpet and sprayed to get the infestation under control.

The inn was the only motel available in the entire city on such short notice, according to Ryan Collins, a homeless services coordinator for West Sacramento.

Lamb stayed on her best behavior—11 participants were kicked out for causing problems or for arrests—and finally got a housing voucher.

But by the time she had the paper in hand, the available rentals in the area had been snatched up. Of the 48 who got vouchers, 17 are now housed, 15 are on waiting lists and 16 are still searching for housing.

Completing the paperwork to obtain a voucher—ordering birth certificates and getting government identification cards—was challenging for some, especially when nearly 75 percent of participants had mental-health or substance-abuse issues. Or both.

Collins said some residents couldn’t stay sober, ditched appointments or were anxious about balancing the costs of meds and independent living. The problems associated with chronic homelessness couldn’t be solved in just a few months, even with the best professionals available.

“I’m still honestly pretty impressed with what we came up with,” Collins said. “It exceeded expectations.” Especially on such a tight time frame, he added.

“Someone was lighting a fire under us,” Collins said. “It wasn’t a planned transition.”

That someone was Ethan Conrad Properties, who purchased the area along the Sacramento River where a homeless encampment was located for years.

Rather than having campers arrested and their belongings forcibly removed, Ryan McGinnis from ECP worked with the West Sacramento Police Department to find a more humane way to reclaim the property. The North Levee encampment area was declared unfit for human habitation, and campers got a bump up in housing priority.

Some formerly homeless are again on the streets. But this group now has better access to mental health or addiction treatment, plus CalFresh food stamps and health insurance. And everyone should still be in touch with a caseworker. They haven’t been abandoned.

“We definitely didn’t just say, ’OK, your four months are up,’” said Collins.