Following years of criticism that the city and county of Sacramento haven’t worked close enough to solve the region’s homelessness crisis, the two local governments on Thursday announced what one official described as a “long overdue” deal to coordinate efforts to fight the growing problem.
Called the Homeless Services Partnership Agreement, the deal would fund up to 600 new homeless shelter beds and pay for joint city-county outreach teams to visit encampments. Those teams for the first time would include mental health professionals who could diagnose people on-the-spot and refer them for mental health or addiction treatment.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other city leaders have repeatedly urged the county to do more amid the region’s dramatic increase in homelessness. They’ve argued that counties, not cities, are best funded and staffed to confront the problem.
“With this agreement, the county is stepping up big time,” Steinberg said at a press conference at the County Administration Building on Thursday, where city and county leaders announced the deal.
“They are taking a step that is bold, that is far-reaching and that provides the best chance we’ve had together to impact this terrible problem that dominates the agendas of every major city and county in our state,” the mayor added.
Supervisor Patrick Kennedy described the agreement as “long overdue,” saying the county recognizes “the need to do more with its city partners.”
Specifically, the deal would:
- Commit the county to opening up to 600 new shelter beds. It calls for the county to open 200 beds within one year and another 200 within three years. It says the county would operate another 200 if the city provides a shovel-ready site.
- Require the county to hire 10 mental health professionals and 15 homeless engagement workers. Sacramento County Executive Ann Edwards said the agency had already hired a few of the mental health workers but acknowledged recruitment will be challenging given the competition for that category of professionals.
- Require the city to create a team of 25 community response encampment workers. This would increase the city’s existing team of outreach workers.
- Working together, these city-county outreach teams would identify and visit 20 homeless encampments each month. Officials said that work has already started and two teams would be sent out to camps next week.
Officials said the agreement will help people transition from cars and tents to apartments and houses, but not right away.
“This does, in fact, take time,” Edwards, the county executive, told reporters. “I think what you’re going to see is that the partnership between the city and the county working together in these teams — that engagement will be more effective. And over time, you will see a difference.”
Along with funding more outreach teams and shelter beds, the partnership deal calls for the county to make several more behavioral health commitments. Those include:
- Establish and fund a new Community Outreach Recovery Empowerment (CORE) Behavioral Health Center within the city center.
- Increase substance use disorder residential treatment beds. Chevon Kothari, the county’s deputy executive for social services, said plans call for adding 500 new beds “as soon as possible.” Those would be funded by a recent $10 million commitment made by the Board of Supervisors, she said.
- Expand efforts surrounding “involuntary treatment strategies and programs, when appropriate,” through the Assisted Outpatient Treatment program or Laura’s Law.
- Continue to support the Crisis Receiving Behavioral Health Center, a county-funded sobering and crisis intervention program.
Before the partnership agreement can go into effect, the City Council and County Board of Supervisors must approve it at their respective meetings on Tuesday.
The deal's approval would also allow the city to implement voter-approved Measure O. Supporters of the much-debated measure declared victory this week. If enacted, the new city law would make it easier for Sacramento to ban homeless camps on public property under certain conditions.
This spring, the City Council voted to place Measure O on the ballot. It later added a requirement that a city-county partnership agreement be approved before the measure could go into effect. That spurred executives from both agencies to meet and craft the agreement.
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Coalition to End Homelessness, praised the funding of mental health professionals in the agreement. “That’s what we’ve been calling for for years,” he said.
But Erlenbusch described plans for 600 new shelter beds as “incredibly modest,” citing the thousands of unhoused residents who live in the region.
A report published this summer showed a dramatic rise in Sacramento County’s homeless population and added pressure to get the deal done.
According to the 2022 Homeless Point-In-Time Count, there are now nearly 9,300 people experiencing homelessness countywide. That’s up 67% since 2019.
The report counted 1,600 tents and 1,100 vehicles being used for shelter. Those totals were nearly five times larger than in 2019.
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