Sacramento County is in line to receive $25 million from the state to address homelessness along the American River Parkway, an area where encampments have grown rapidly in recent years.
Assembly members Kevin McCarty (D – Sacramento) and Ken Cooley (D – Rancho Cordova) helped secure the funding in the form of a budget appropriation approved last week.
McCarty said the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will ultimately decide how to spend the money once it is received in coming months. But the lawmaker set parameters, saying it should be spent on shelter spaces and not county enforcement sweeps.
“We want to help get people off the parkway,” McCarty said, estimating the $25 million could fund spaces for hundreds of people.
The lawmaker said there are now 2,000 people who live along the parkway, and that public frustration has grown as the number of encampments has increased. People residing in the camps have been blamed for starting wildfires and clogging the watershed with trash and debris.
“The reality is [at] a lot of spots upon the parkway, it’s not very comfortable, not very safe,” McCarty added. “It’s not good for people who use the parkway. And actually it’s not really good for people who are homeless on the parkway.”
The Board of Supervisors recently outlawed encampments along the corridor. It passed a similar ban on encampments in unincorporated areas near schools, libraries and what the county deems critical infrastructure, such as levees.
But county park rangers will be limited in how much they can enforce the new laws, because the county doesn’t have enough shelter beds to offer people. Rangers and sheriff’s deputies can cite and arrest people who do not move from the parkway, but only after they make an offer of available shelter space, in accordance with a 2018 court ruling known as Martin v. Boise.
Supervisor Phil Serna, who represents the district that includes the parkway, said the board will make a decision as quickly as possible on how to spend the $25 million. But he said his preference is for the county to use it to pay for new “Safe Stay” tiny home communities.
Supervisors approved two such communities in South Sacramento this summer, a 44-unit tiny home village near Florin Road just west of Highway 99 and 100 tiny homes at Florin and Power Inn roads. Those plans include private cabin-like shelters for each resident, meals, laundry services, case management, restrooms, showers and 24/7 security.
They are designed to offer greater privacy and security than traditional group shelters and represent a new strategy to address the region’s homelessness crisis. Unhoused residents often reject large group shelters due to unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
Advocates for people experiencing homelessness have called for the county and city governments to prioritize permanent supportive homeless housing ahead of temporary shelter space.
Serna said he would not rule out using some of the money for housing, but said shelter was the immediate need.
“This is a crisis,” the supervisor added. “We need to respond to the crisis as the public would expect us to, which is with a great sense of urgency.”
McCarty was among three Democratic state lawmakers who backed Assembly Bill 2633 in April to speed up the removal of homeless camps along the corridor. The other lawmakers were Cooley and Jim Cooper (D – Elk Grove), who will be sworn in as Sacramento County Sheriff early next year.
McCarty added that the county’s approval last month of the parkway encampment ban means the stalled legislation is no longer needed.
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