Last week, a man was found dead near the Loaves & Fishes campus in Sacramento. While the exact cause is uncertain, staff think that the wet blankets he was wrapped in combined with freezing temperatures to cause his death.
I am devastated. Another preventable death, another tragedy on our streets.
Even before the pandemic, the number of people living on our streets was rapidly increasing. While we were able to temporarily house some people through Project RoomKey and other programs, those sites are closing and people are returning to the streets.
In October, over 4,000 people applied for emergency rental assistance money from Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency. That’s four times the number that the program can support, indicating a potential wave of evictions and a potential increase in homelessness that we can expect in the coming months.
More people are experiencing homelessness in Sacramento while we have tiny homes sitting unused because we cannot come to an agreement on safe camping and parking locations. While people are dying on the street from freezing temperatures, we have no plan to adjust our criteria for warming centers that will help save those lives.
I’ve been struggling to understand why we haven’t seen more progress when every person I talk to agrees that things are getting worse, and that more needs to be done. The answer, in my opinion, is frustratingly simple: We don’t have a plan.
I’m not just talking about a plan to create one shelter or one new permanent housing project. I mean a strategic plan that captures the full scale of our need and identifies how we will systematically work to achieve solutions. A plan that says if a certain number of folks on our street suffer from mental illness or drug addiction, we need to identify that number of supportive units for them to get the treatment they need.
A plan that identifies not only how many units are needed to get people off of the street, but how to stop the flow of new people from ending up homeless in the first place. A plan that is informed by best practices and service providers who know what they’re doing. A plan that is tied to metrics and goals that help us understand whether we’re on track.
I know tackling homelessness seems like an impossible challenge, but we know it is possible. Other communities have seen progress by vigilantly tracking data, providing interventions for people at risk of becoming homeless and quickly connecting people to services when they do fall into homelessness.
We know that fixing our broken housing market will reduce the number of families that fall into homelessness — and research has shown that providing permanent supportive housing to high needs individuals can save money for local governments, healthcare systems and nearby home and business owners. Solving this crisis will take time and money — and will require a lot of interim steps to triage the current situation while we work on the pieces that will take longer – but I truly believe we can do this if we come together to push for change.
That’s why I’ve decided to convene a District 4 Homelessness Task Force consisting of representatives of business associations, neighborhood associations and service providers in my district to create a strategic plan to address homelessness.
We will work together to understand what is and is not working. We will scrutinize all available data to identify opportunities for improvement. We will engage the broader community in gathering input on proposed solutions.
Then we will work together to advocate for those solutions, not just at the city but also with the county, with Sacramento Steps Forward, with the state, and with any other entity that holds part of the solution.
While this group is focused on District 4 — the part of Sacramento I will soon be sworn in to represent, and arguably the epicenter of this crisis — I’m hopeful that we can find a way to engage other decision-makers in the process while adhering to public meeting requirements to ensure the community stays informed of our progress.
If there’s one thing I know about our city, it’s that we refuse to accept an unjust or unfair situation. Folks call and email me almost every day outraged about what’s happening on our streets, demanding action.
I agree with them. The time to act is now. Let’s work together and ensure everyone has a safe place to call home.
Katie Valenzuela is Sacramento City Councilmember-Elect for District 4.