Catherine Stifter From Capital Public Radio, this is The View From Here podcast. I’m Catherine Stifter and this is the final episode of Place and Privilege, exploring housing affordability in California's capital.
Catherine Stifter Back in 2006 Sacramento’s elected leaders launched a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. As Cosmo Garvin reminds us in this episode, that was 11 years ago.
Cosmo Garvin: You might remember in 2009, when the Oprah Winfrey show made national news of the homeless camps along the American River Parkway. Sacramento leaders were embarrassed into action. Then mayor, Kevin Johnson, created the Sacramento Steps Forward homeless initiative.
Catherine Stifter: But still the number of homeless residents increased. In 2015, it was estimated during the biennial Point in Time count, that about 2600 people were living in homeless shelters and on the streets of Sacramento. By 2017 that number had risen above 3600. County officials say about twice that many people experience homelessness at some point in a year.
Cosmo Garvin: This time, we ask what it will take to make real progress on housing the thousands of homeless people in Sacramento.
Catherine Stifter Place and Privilege, Episode 8, Whatever It Takes
Mayor Darrell Steinberg Well first of all it's a hard problem and it's not unique to Sacramento.
Cosmo Garvin That’s Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento’s current mayor, who has promised to make major progress in housing the homeless. He’s set a goal of getting 2000 people off the streets of our city in the next three years.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg Of course it's a problem that is actually much worse in other urban parts of California. In fact, I would argue that in some other parts of the state if you believe in the idea of “tipping point” that in some places there beyond the tipping point that the idea of actually fixing it or making it dramatically better is even more daunting than it is in Sacramento because I don't think we've hit that tipping point yet.
We're close. The problem is getting worse. But I think we are at a place where with a focused, mission-driven effort that is centered on a tangible goal and I mean how many people are we going to get off the streets over what period of time, and how are we going to do it, that we in fact can make a dramatic difference. We know what works. We know it's a sort of outreach. It's intensive case management. It's supportive services especially mental health and substance abuse services. And it is triage and then permanent supportive housing.
Cosmo Garvin So that’s what I want to explore in this final episode of Place and Privilege. What will it take to solve the crisis of homelessness in Sacramento? What’s going to be different this time?
You’ll hear more from Mayor Steinberg about the approach that the city of Sacramento is taking. And also about new initiatives being launched by Sacramento County.
And since the Place and Privilege series is about affordable housing, I wanted to look at the problem through the lens of housing policy. One criticism of the City and County approaches is that they do little to address the lack of affordable housing.
Cosmo Garvin One of the strategies that Mayor Steinberg mentioned is something called permanent supportive housing. The Mercy Housing building at 7th and H streets in downtown Sacramento is a good example.
The Mercy project came out of that old 10 year plan to end homelessness. The building has 150 studio and one bedroom apartments, half of those reserved for formerly homeless residents. It’s a lovely building, clean, and bright, right next to the light rail. There’s a health clinic on site, and residents can take advantage of any number of services and classes.
I spoke to Mercy residents Tameeka Knox and Wanda Lewis about living there, after having been homeless.
Tameeka Knox My name is Tameeka Knox, I'm here at Mercy Housing, 7th and H apartments, and I've been here for three and a half years now.
I was sleeping out outside on benches. No coats, no heavy clothing. Three years, it kind of weared on me because I was staying in dirty places. But it was off of benches and handles and different things, the bacteria picked up throughout because I didn't have running water. Me and my father wasn't really getting along and I would come and go and try to travel and get somewhere else. It was kind of hectic.
My grandmother died and my daughter's father died and I kind of had a nervous breakdown. And so I kind of couldn't take care of my kids. Couldn't be married. And I lost everything.
It took a lot of hard work because I wasn't ready. I was not ready. I left several times. I was funky and didn't realize it and I had a lot of behavioral problems that I couldn't pay attention to my schizophrenia. At the time I was diagnosed with schizophrenia for myself and so I didn't know where my mental capacity level was.
Getting in here is the beginning. Maintaining it after being on the street is the difficult part.
Cosmo Garvin: But when she entered Mercy Housing, she found services that she needed.
Tameeka Knox Definitely there's N.A. here. There's a health care downstairs there's peer support we could help each other. Yeah, we do all of that together. Actually we do cooking classes here too. And let's see if I can recall another class we have tomorrow. We're having a hydrogenated class tomorrow where you have to protect yourself from the sun. And then ‘Seeking Safety,’ every Tuesday. I enjoy that very much because it deals with depression mental health and other substance abuse issues that people might have. And I teach you actually ways to cope.
I’m actually enrolling in school next month. So I'm looking forward to that. Sac City is my desire and Sac University because I want to be a personal service coordinator.
I think we tend to get a little distracted with other people but we kind of bounce back quicker than if we're left without the support that's in the building like Mercy Housing offers a lot of supporters that helps keep you on your, on your feet.
You kind of have someone always doing something near you. You know so you don't never get lost too long. So I can appreciate that. I don't think you can get that anywhere else in any of the housing.
Wanda Lewis Hi, my name is Wanda Lewis. I'm at the Mercy Housing on Seventh and H street. I do a lot of activities here at the Mercy Housing to help out anyone that probably needs a little help. We have projects like sewing, beading, yoga, cooking class, arts and crafts, safety class.
Mercy Housing brought me a long ways. I've been to Mercy Housing like three years, going on four, I been here and received clean and sober on August 26. I have two years clean, no alcohol no drugs.
I keep myself occupied in the sewing area on the second floor. I do a lot of little sewing and alterations for people here. It's like my comfort zone. I get the most peace of it is when I get there by myself when I'm opening it up, you know. I don't know what I would do without this building. To tell you the truth if it weren't for this building, who knows where I would be?
Wanda Lewis Before I came here I was like, pillar to post. Pillar to post, that's like sleeping at everybody's different houses, carrying your clothes in your backpack, probably trying to wash your hands in the river. Asking somebody for money. You know, you got this you got that? Sneaking on the train, you now without your ticket. I did that a couple of times.
Like my grandbabies. They come over, they want to stay. They don't want to go home. Yeah. It’s four of them. It's too little for all of them to sleep there you know. So you know I wouldn’t say I need a bigger place though, because I would never want to leave here. You know just to get a bigger place. I wouldn’t want to leave Mercy Housing, because I feel so connected. Or it's like my comfort zone, and it's not scary to me.
Wanda Lewis Yeah, the only reason I say connection is because I feel that it, every now and then, somebody needs me to maybe go open the door. Or to go to look into something and get it for them. If somebody comes in and they need the hem on their pants fixed I could look at them and tell them I can fix them for them. And that's kinda different for me. Because I used to be out in the world and I never had no one say ‘Wanda come here and help me with this,’ you know because I was kind probably I would say strung out maybe just wanted to party you know and didn't see the world.
I like the yoga because it kind of eases the pressure. When you finish it's like calm. You know like when you meditate. That's the part I really love, you know you lay there and you just go to a different world, like a different view. You know nice stuff, beautiful sky and the birds flying around you and then you just feel good. You know when you you leaving. Good people, surroundings, and that's what I need. Nice people, surroundings.
Cosmo Garvin So, more now with Mayor Darrell Steinberg. In 2004, When he was a state assembly member, he authored Proposition 63, which levies a tax on millionaires to fund mental health services. He also founded the Steinberg Institute, to advance mental health policy.
And so no surprise perhaps that the Steinberg’s strategy to fight homelessness would be focused on mental health services. I started by asking why Sacramento hasn’t made more progress in the last 10 years.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg In my view what's happening happened with homelessness is despite the 10 year plans and good intentions is that we've sort of... We hit the terrible recession first of all and there were huge cutbacks to the mental health system. Even with Prop 63. Thank God we had Prop 63, it actually saved mental health. But we had a lot of cuts and the county had to make a lot of cuts. And of course people living on the edge. And we sort of tried to manage this with the hope that better economic times and just better circumstances would make it better. But while we've managed it, it's actually gotten worse. And I'm frankly tired of attending ribbon cuttings where we celebrate marginal improvements in a social condition where we ought to be able to do better as a community.
I do come to this new public service role having led on a lot of these issues for many many years. And I have a very strong will and I was elected in part in my view because people expected that I would be able to make a difference on these sets of issues. Can't do any of it alone of course. But there is a clear consensus in this city that this is the number one quality of life issue.
Cosmo Garvin Under Steinberg’s leadership, the city has been awarded something called a “Whole Person Care” grant from the state.
The Whole Person Care pilot program uses federal medicaid money to help provide a suite of medical and social services, as well as case management, to Sacramento’s chronically homeless.
The program will cost $64 million over four years. Half of that is from the federal government, half local matching funds. Some from the City, but mostly from Sacramento area hospitals, like Sutter Health, Dignity Health, UC Davis and Kaiser Permanente. (It’s potentially a good deal for them, since the program is meant to reduce ER visits.)
Steinberg’s plan would also reserve some of Sacramento’s federally subsidized housing vouchers and public housing units to be used by homeless people.
Cosmo Garvin (in interview) Walk me through, draw the line, the connection for me between your your stated goal which was to get 2000 people off the street and how Whole Person Care does that. Because Whole Person Care does not house people or it's not a housing it's not primarily housing.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg It's not Whole Person Care alone but Whole Person Care is the system. It is the intensive outreach, it's the intervention, it's the case management. When you combine Whole Person Care with mental health services and substance abuse services and the 2,300 or so discrete housing opportunities we believe we have in the city and the county, we can make a huge dent in that Point In Time count.
We estimate that, over three years, that with $64 million dollars we'll be able to serve 3,250 people intensively. And that includes the intensive outreach, the case management. And then again combined with the services and the housing we can provide people that stability. We think about those 3,250 about half will either be intermittently homeless or not yet homeless. And that we can stem their homelessness in its tracks by providing rent subsidies by providing whatever help they may need.
People have mental health issues who are not yet homeless. We want to make sure they get the help that they receive. The other 1,625, the second half, are would be directed towards those who are the most chronically homeless on the streets on the streets. And so we think we can get from 1,625 to 2,000 by working closely again with our county partners bringing down more resources from the health care systems.
Cosmo Garvin (in interview) Because of the reporting I've been doing on the Housing Choice Voucher program. I'm really interested in this these ideas of helping people actually be able to use those vouchers and access housing.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg The criticism is well these vouchers in a tight rental market it's going to be very difficult for the homeless to be able to access them. And I think it's a fair point, it's a challenge. But it's not an insurmountable challenge because that's why we have to work holistically here, riight?
The entire community has a stake in reducing this ever increasing homeless problem. And so we've had lots of conversations with the leaders of the rental housing community and they're willing to participate in a program. And they know that it's better for them if we if we don't have a growing homeless problem. And look it's not as if-- we know what would be a mistake if we took a chronically homeless person with serious mental illness gave them a voucher, found them an apartment and said ‘Here you go. Good luck.’ It doesn't work. What works though is that housing is why they call it ‘Housing First’ not ‘housing only.’ Is that housing in combination with the services with the supports until somebody is well enough to be able to increase their independence.
Cosmo Garvin (in interview) So I think a third of the folks identified as homeless in the Point In Time count are considered chronically homeless. And so that means some larger portion of people have other issues. But largely it's because housing is unaffordable to them there's not enough affordable housing. So how how how can we shore up that supply of affordable housing?
Mayor Darrell Steinberg We need to build more housing, period. Including market rate housing because that sort of a bullish approach to housing production will also lead to more workforce and affordable housing. Secondly, we have to work at both the state and the local level to increase the resources to to provide the necessary subsidies to jumpstart more affordable housing projects. Three we need to be creative and I'll give you an example. In 2015, after I left the legislature my mental health institute sponsored the No Place Like Home initiative. No Place Like Home was an idea I had 10 years ago which was to take a small percentage of Prop 63, set it aside in a debt repayment fund, and issue a housing bond for the homeless mentally ill. Well it took some years. But Kevin DeLeon, my successor and my friend, took it on and passed it. We now have $2 billion. Now it's taking longer than I would like because of the state regulatory process. But beginning in 2018 we will have $2 billion worth of housing resources, to leverage and jumpstart workforce housing and affordable housing for non, for the non-homeless population as well.
Cosmo Garvin At the county level, too, there has been new energy and new funding to try and tackle the problem of homelessness.
Sacramento County is already the major provider of homeless shelters and services. This year the county has come up with an additional $7 million for some new initiatives to tackle homelessness.
These include funding for some additional shelter spaces, and for “re housing” services. The county’s homeless plan also includes diverting housing vouchers to homeless families--but it’s not entirely clear how that effort will be coordinated with the City of Sacramento, since the County has decided NOT to participate in the Whole Person Care pilot program.
I spoke with Cindy Cavanaugh, the County’s first director of homeless services, to try to find out what the county is doing differently than before.
Cindy Cavanaugh I was hired about a year ago to really look at at a systems level with the bird's eye view what the county is doing, what it might do better what it's not doing that it should do. And to just to coordinate and have more impactful efforts around homelessness.
So a really good way for us to learn about the population is the biannual point in time count that it's actually required by the federal government for homelessness funding. And so we earlier this year in 2017 that count was completed. We saw about a 30 percent increase in the overall population. And so we're at a little over 3600 people at that point in time on that particular night that were counted.
It's a good rule of thumb to double that for the annualized number of people experiencing homelessness. Keep in mind most most folks actually exit homelessness relatively quickly with a little bit of help. But there is a population that's called the chronically homeless and that's about 30 percent of that number-- people who are disabled people who are homeless for a year or longer or multiple times within a period of time. Those are the people you see on the streets, living in parks and unsheltered places primarily.
So homelessness is probably not ever going to completely go away. Your system is working well if it can really shorten the time folks are homeless and prevent people from becoming homeless. But it's a it's a complex issue related to things like the broader housing market, the economy, employment, poverty all those things are risk factors that that can impact who become who might become homeless.
Cosmo Garvin (in interview) But just as directly as possible, why didn't we (solve it?) solve it? Was it that the response was not proportionate to the problem, that the problem got worse, or the funding sources went away?
Cindy Cavanaugh So in California we've probably had more challenges with homelessness than nationwide. Even though we're doing many of the things we need to do. We have many good programs. We have re-housing and housing-focused services. but homelessness is complex. It has both structural and personal contributions to why people become homeless.
The rental market itself, the pressure right now from say people leaving the Bay Area to come here is driving rents up. There was one study by the V.A. that said for every hundred dollars of rent increase homelessness goes up six percent. So you can have good solutions and then you can have macro impacts on who is going to become homeless. Our job is to really help people shorten the time they're homeless.
Cosmo Garvin The County’s approach to homelessness has come in for a lot of criticism lately. The County is planning to devote more resources to pushing homeless people out of encampments along the American River Parkway, and that’s been very controversial.
The county has also gotten beaten up a bit for not pursuing the Whole Person Care grant to fund services for the chronically homeless. The program that Sacramento Mayor Steinberg has championed. And the Sacramento Bee newpaper has done editorials harshly criticizing the County for that decision.
Cavanaugh was at first reluctant to talk about those choices, which were made by politicians, her bosses, the County Board of Supervisors. She did agree to speak generally about criticisms of the County’s approach.
Cindy Cavanaugh So I think the community leaders are under intense pressure to resolve this problem and to resolve it as quickly as possible. And so there is an urgency and there is a hyper attention on it. But there there is no one solution. And I think it's it's not helpful to blame any segment. I, I think we need to work towards multiple interventions. Again the County initiatives rely on this flexible, local money. The Whole Person Care is a Medicaid program focused on reducing hospital costs and touching a broad population. That's good. But there are, the initiatives are more directly focused on this population.
Cosmo Garvin (in interview) So just to bring it back to the the idea that this is also a problem of housing policy and that fundamentally people are homeless because they can't, there's not housing available to them that they can afford. We haven't talked about anything so far that produces new housing.
Cindy Cavanaugh You're right. So the initiatives really focused on increasing access to existing housing, it's quicker, it’s cheaper. But we do need to pay attention as well to the market, affordable housing market as well. Those solutions are long term, expensive, not immediate. And so for that reason that's where we focus.
But we are working hard on every opportunity that comes before us and the No Place Like Home is one current opportunity where the County will actually be a co-applicant with developments to the state. And we'll get about $4 million in noncompetitive funding. And then we will position ourselves to apply for competitive funding under that state program. It's about $2 billion. It's for people experiencing long term homelessness with serious mental illness. The county will be a partner in delivering those services and committing to those services. And so that is one concrete opportunity that we're working on actively right now. We expect the first funding to be available next summer. So even that is long term. But that's one strategy we're pursuing.
Cosmo Garvin When I think of permanent supportive housing I think of 7th and H, the Mercy Housing. I don't know if this is exactly the kind of project that would be funded by this, but how many 7th and Hs would we be able to build?
Cindy Cavanaugh So, I’m going to make a guess and say we would be lucky to get one 7th and H. These are very complex financing structures. These projects will be integrated, so they'll have No Place Like Home money but no more than 49 percent of the units will be that population. So there'll be other financing. They'll have tax credits. They'll need local assistance like vouchers like project-based vouchers. So we're working on piecing together what we can. I would say there's so many factors, one of them is limitations of just development happening out there and the capacity. The other is how can we compete? And then the local resources needed to put together each project. I would be really happy with one project a year.
Cosmo GarvinJust as Mayor Steinberg attacks the problem of homelessness with health services, others approach it as a housing problem, and emphasize housing solutions.
I talked about some of those solutions with Veronica Beaty, policy director with the Sacramento Housing Alliance. The alliance brings together housing advocates, housing developers and nonprofits, and tries to help shape local policy.
Veronica Beaty There are a lot of causes of homelessness. The one we talk about most at the Sacramento Housing Alliance, unsurprisingly, is housing affordability. So some folks end up homeless on a temporary basis because vacancy rates are so tight and they have trouble finding a place when they want to leave or are forced to leave the place they've been living. We have some folks who aren't able to hold down housing in the private market and public housing with publicly subsidized housing isn't available to them. And because we don't have the kind of public services we need to support folks who can't find and keep housing on their own.
Cosmo Garvin (in interview) So it is a mix of, there's a lot of housing that is just not in people's reach of certain income levels and people are overwhelmed with problems that they have health problems, mental health problems, substance problems, that makes it difficult for them to stay, hold on in that market.
Veronica Beaty Absolutely. And homelessness can be self-perpetuating in that way. If you didn't have mental health problems or substance abuse problems before becoming homeless and living unsheltered is a great way to develop those. Sleep deprivation because you're staying up all night to stay safe, can trigger underlying mental health issues. You can end up using drugs again to stay awake and stay safe or even just to dull the stress of living unsheltered.
Cosmo Garvin (in interview) There have been these these points in time where there's been sort of more energy around the issue of homelessness, and you know sort of a feeling, well we’re really going to do something this time about it. And and as far as I can tell, we've not made, those have not made any appreciable difference. Or at least the problem has gotten worse. So, why is that?
Veronica Beaty Well I think it's important to remember that the 10 year plan to end homelessness was conceived in a very different economic reality. And it was at this point where we were very much focused on chronic homelessness the sense of finding frequent users of hospital systems of jail systems really focusing an intense amount of resources on what we realized was a pretty small population and a pretty solvable problem. And I think that work has carried on and we've seen results from that. The problem is the bottom is kind of dropping out of the housing market for a bunch of other folks. And four in 10 Sacramentans are actually severely cost burdened, which means they're putting half of their paycheck towards housing. So we're seeing this increase in homelessness not just for those chronically homeless folks but more folks who simply can't afford their rents.
We've seen a lot of political energy from both the city and county in addressing homelessness. For the most part, their proposals have focused on increasing shelter access, increasing intense services and case management that can put folks on the path of housing. But what we haven't quite seen, so far, is making sure that there's housing at the end of that path. So that's why the Housing Alliance has been working on this research about new revenue sources for our housing trust funds, because really all the services in the world can't get someone a house.
Cosmo Garvin A big part of Sacramento’s affordable housing crisis is related to the loss of millions of dollars in government funding that used to go to build affordable housing. A lot of that has to do with the recession, and with the decision several years ago to do away with redevelopment agencies, in order to help balance the state budget.
If you go to the Sacramento Housing Alliance website, you can read some of their specific proposals to replace lost funding streams and create new affordable housing.
Some of the ideas include revisiting the County’s relatively low development fees. The Housing Alliance is also in favor of bonds to build affordable units, and a real estate transfer tax or a document recordation fee could generate a few million dollars every year to put towards housing.
Veronica Beaty It's up for debate whether we ever had sufficient affordable housing funding. But it's inarguable that we've lost two thirds of what we had since 2008. That's because federal funding streams have dried up. Some of our state proposition funds have dried up and haven't been replaced. And we lost redevelopment.
For Sacramento County the loss of redevelopment meant losing $20 million. We've lost approximately $19 million from the state housing bonds and from the federal level about $4 million. That was all money we used to build affordable housing.
Veronica Beaty Twenty percent of redevelopment agency funds were mandated to be spent on affordable housing. So that was a big loss when redevelopment agencies were folded. The taxing entities that used to receive redevelopment funding still receive some of the same tax increment revenue. And it's used to pay off their outstanding debt and then used however they see fit. What we haven't seen until recently and what we've been advocating for is having a chunk of that money return to affordable housing the same way it had.
Veronica Beaty I think as much as funding is an important part of solving this problem, we don't always focus on just funding to talk about meeting that whole need. Funding would have to come with an array of policies and not just housing policies right. There's room at this table for economic development conversations about raising wages. That's why we are part of the Raise the Wage campaign in Sacramento. And also changing our zoning, changing our construction methodology. All of that right. Sacramento is developing I think an overall assessment of housing need and we're deepening the conversation about what kinds of housing is really necessary to meet our need. And then what the corresponding levels of subsidy would be. Right.
Because part of the problem is we get our regional housing needs allocation from SACOG. So the amount of housing we should be planning for at various levels, but that's not very fine grained. So that's not necessarily telling you the difference between finding a place for someone who's crashing on a friend's couch because they lost their job but they're going to get one next week versus housing for somebody who needs a permanent supportive housing and would really do best in a place with integrated medical care with community services. Those are two very different levels of funding necessary. And I haven't seen a jurisdiction really break that out and turn that into an overall assessment. It's mostly been talking about how much money is politically feasible and then given that amount of money where we would want to spend it.
Cosmo Garvin To round out the podcast, I spoke with someone who has watched Sacramento’s policies on homelessness evolve over the last 30 years. Joan Burke, is director of advocacy at Sacramento Loaves and Fishes, which is probably the best known private non-profit provider of services to the homeless. I asked her why the 10 year plan to end homelessness wasn’t more successful.
Joan Burke Well I think the 10 year plan actually did several things well. of which was to convince policymakers especially the city council and the Board of Supervisors that Housing First is the way, most appropriate way to help most homeless people. And prior to educating our community and ourselves, we had the old model where you would say to somebody who wanted help who was homeless. Well do you have a drug problem? Well then we can't really assess you. So once you get clean and sober then we can look at helping you. But the problem with that is such an approach excludes probably about 90 percent of the people who are homeless. So it was a mismatch between the need and the solution. The other reason I think we didn't succeed with the 10 year plan is the same thing we're seeing now. Macro economic factors continue to push more and more people into homelessness. Most recently the rising rents mean that we've had huge increases in the number of people who are homeless in the last two years. And the third reason that we didn't succeed was simply we knew what the right thing to do was but we didn't provide enough of it for all the people who needed it.
You know this is all kind of a cruel game of musical chairs because when the music stops the people who don't get the chairs or the housing are the least agile, the least functional, the people with the fewest resources and they end up literally homeless. I don't think we've ever had large scale homelessness to this extent in our country even in the Great Depression.
Cosmo Garvin (in interview) So let me ask you about the Whole Person Care because Whole Person Care doesn't house anybody. Right. It doesn't. It's not a housing program. It's a medical program, or health care services. And so make the connection for me to explain how Whole Person Care leads to someone being no longer homeless.
Joan Burke Well I would take the example of a woman who I've seen homeless repeatedly over the past 20 years. She’s schizophrenic. Yet she will not accept any mental health services. She sleeps outside. She's very delusional and very paranoid Let's call her Deidre. Deidre is a great example of the “whatever it takes” approach, what that really means. Someone is going to have to spend hours with her helping her every tiny step of the way to accept some help and to end up in housing and then to provide support for her, once she's housed. One thing it does is the case managers will have very very, very small caseloads, maybe 10 people at a time. So they do have the time to help Deidre avail herself of existing services. And without that she will never get housed.With that there's a possibility.
The other thing, it’s easy to lose when you’re talking about the larger picture is: Being homeless sucks. People are in horrible situations day in, day out while they're homeless. So we we really should regain that sense of urgency that this is not acceptable in our community. And when someone is homeless we want to provide first of all emergency shelter and safety. And secondly a way to regain a home. And what I like about the mayor's approach is he at heart is a mensch and he gets the human suffering that's part of homelessness. And he feels a sense of personal responsibility to do something about it.
Cosmo Garvin (in interview) So then I have to ask you about some of the other things that are in the works. The county is dedicating some resources to moving folks out of the American River Parkway. I mean there's a huge, difficult problem obviously...
Joan Burke Well when you look at the American River Parkway, HUD has a term for people who are homeless. It says they're living in ‘places not intended for human habitation.’ And that's what's happening in along the American River Parkway and other areas. You have large numbers of people without sanitation of any kind, without garbage collection, living in a area of great environmental significance and beauty, and it doesn't work.
The other thing that to remember is many of those people are, like the woman Deidre that I talked about, they are deeply, deeply mentally ill and truly disabled. The thing we do know is that law enforcement does not work to truly end the impact on the river. People are typically cited and released and then they have nowhere to go. So they end up in another part of the river.
It appalls me that the county is looking at spending $5 million in one year for enforcement on the river. Because I know it won't do the job. You really have to provide a place for people to go to effect the impact on the parkway. The county should spend that money on emergency shelter and housing, and then have outreach helping people get off the river.
You know we've spent a lot of time looking at a daunting picture in many ways. It's worth remembering that the number of people who are homeless right now in Sacramento is not infinite but finite. We can help them one-by-one and we can house everyone. It is achievable and I think it's important to remember that so that you do have the resolve to dedicate the resources it's going to take to do that.
Catherine Stifter Cosmo, throughout the podcast series we’ve been exploring a very complicated situation known as the “housing affordability crisis.” You’ve talked with historians about the past and civic leaders about the future. How likely do you think it is that homeless people in Sacramento who are seeking shelter and seeking services to change their lives will be able to find it when they need it?
Cosmo Garvin Well, right now clearly there are not enough services, and there’s not enough housing. So in the next months and years, we’ll see if the plans that city and county officials have put forward will make a difference, and whether Sacramento can make major progress on solving homelessness, in a way that it never has before.
One thing I’m interested in is whether we’ll see a local effort to produce more affordable housing. The policies being put forward are really mean to tackle chronic homelessness, with housing and services, especially mental health services. And that makes a lot sense. But clearly a lot of the problem of homelessness is due to the fact that housing is just unaffordable for so many people. And so far, we haven’t really seen policies developed to address that.
Catherine Stifter You've been listening to The View From Here podcast.
Place and Privilege.
Episode 8, Whatever It Takes
Produced by Cosmo Garvin and Sally Schilling.
Edited by Catherine Stifter
Music by Privileges.
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This is The View From Here. From Capital Public Radio. Thanks for listening.