A measure that could ban homeless encampments on public property and require the city of Sacramento to build shelters is headed to November ballots with some new changes.
The City Council voted Tuesday 7-2 to amend the so-called “Emergency Shelter and Enforcement Act of 2022,” citing the need for better collaboration with the county.
If voters pass the measure in November, unhoused people camping on city streets would face a misdemeanor if they reject offers for available emergency shelter space. However, the city would first be required to create thousands of shelter spaces or safe ground camping sites.
The city’s approved amendment would force the law to go into effect only after the city and county sign an agreement describing the county’s responsibilities to provide services to unhoused people. The measure requires a majority vote to pass this fall.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg said commitment from the county will help the measure’s goal of reducing homelessness.
“Without the county and their massive mental health, substance abuse, child welfare and domestic violence infrastructure and resources, this initiative as it stands will not provide the relief that we want and that the people expect,” Steniberg said. “Simply put, it would be a false promise.”
The amendment drew opposition from both business leaders and advocates for unhoused residents. Business representatives argued the changes watered down the initial measure the council approved in April by a 7-2 vote.
Homeless advocates urged the council to pull the measure from the ballot, which was the city’s other option besides amending it. Some threatened to challenge the measure with lawsuits.
Council members Mai Vang and Katie Valenzuela have continued to oppose the measure and attempted to have it rescinded on Tuesday, but they failed.
The proposal was initially placed on the ballot as a compromise to a more aggressive measure put forth by business leaders.
Daniel Conway, who is with the Sacramentans for Safe and Clean Streets and Parks and helped write the business-backed measure, said his group withdrew the more aggressive proposal in good faith after working with the council on a compromise.
Conway, who was former Mayor Kevin Johnson’s then-chief of staff, opposed the changes made Tuesday.
“Here we are tonight looking to break the promise that was made to voters and reverse course,” Conway said. “And basically tie the city’s leadership to a toxic relationship with the county.”
The amended measure also changes the requirement for how much emergency shelter space the city would need to provide. Instead of mandating spaces for 60% of the unsheltered people in the city and county, it only requires spaces for 60% of those living in the city.
The city has roughly 1,100 shelter spaces, which are usually full. About 9,300 unhoused people live in Sacramento County, according to the 2022 Homeless Point in Time Count.
Unhoused resident Joyce Williams said the measure could further hurt people living on the streets. In an interview with CapRadio last week, she said the city already uses encampment sweeps to displace people.
“It could make or break them,” said Williams, who has been homeless for six years. “We’ve never been in trouble, my wife and I. It could criminalize us.”
She asked voters to educate themselves before making a decision on the measure. Eating lunch with an unhoused person is one way to learn about their experiences, she added.
Niki Jones, an activist with the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, called the measure sloppy. Offering shelter like the measure proposes doesn’t put people on a direct pathway to housing, Jones said.
If voters approve the measure, Jones said people who decline offers for a variety of reasons could face more fines and jail time.
“If this was about solutions, if this was about housing, it would be a four-step process to housing,” Jones said. “But it’s not. It’s a four-step process to enact criminalization [and] enforce the anti-camping laws.”
She added it follows a pattern of proposals to punish unhoused residents.
Later this month the city is scheduled to debate making blocking sidewalks a misdemeanor. The county has also proposed banning encampments near public spaces such as levees and hospitals.
CapRadio’s Chris Nichols contributed to this story.
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