There are thousands of people in Sacramento County who are homeless and hundreds of them live in Arden Arcade - on sidewalks, in cars, in public parks, in strip malls and throughout the American River Parkway. Within the homeless population are people who have jobs, are families, are school children, are elderly or disabled. There are also some who are substance-addicted and a few who prefer the life of a vagrant. Besides basic things like shelter, food and sanitation, homeless people need services like health care, employment assistance, counseling and so forth. None of those things are readily available in our community…or elsewhere, frankly. In general, our community is not happy with the current situation that tends to deal with homelessness like squeezing the air in a balloon - just moving it from place to place. You may have noticed some burning discussions about homelessness on Nextdoor recently. Some people want homelessness to “go away”, while others feel compassion towards the least fortunate among us. Both the feds and the state are trying to deal with homelessness by throwing money at local municipal governments. Among the recipients are our very own Board of Supervisors, who have mostly just blamed court decisions (against criminalizing homelessness) for making things worse. Meanwhile, the County and the City of Sacramento have used their federal and state money to rely on a consulting firm, Sacramento Steps Forward, to do census counts and provide “Navigation Services” intended to steer people off the streets and into housing.
The City of Sacramento is struggling to address homelessness. Their City Council has not exactly distinguished itself by acting decisively. They have done a few things here and there, but overall, there has just been a lot of talking. And one of their main talkers is Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a former bigwig in the state Legislature, who has been named by Governor Gavin Newsom as co-chair of a statewide task force to end-homelessness-as-we-know-it. Mayor Steinberg says the City of Sacramento will establish homeless shelters in each City Council district. Jeff Harris represents one of those districts. His district includes the industrial area where Loaves and Fishes provides important services to homeless people every day. There are no overnight shelters in that vicinity, but there is a high concentration of homeless camping strewn about the area. Harris’ solution has been to site a new shelter at Cal Expo, across the street from our beloved unincorporated ‘hood, conveniently buffered from his voting constituents on the other side of the river, and far away from the services available at Loaves and Fishes. So, the Cal Expo Board of Directors will be meeting on September 27th to consider whether to accept the City of Sacramento’s request to put a 100-bed pre-fab shelter near the corner of Hurley and Ethan, close to the Cal Expo RV park. With Arden Arcade businesses and our part of the Parkway close by, it is expected that the residents of the shelter will spend their time in our community, where they won’t find the services they would have if the shelter was close to Loaves and Fishes and where the transportation system doesn’t really provide for access to services. So far, the County is keeping a low profile about possible impacts here. The Supervisors don’t want to get in the way of their buddies at the City of Sacramento who are making it look like the County is stepping up to solve its own share of the problem. Except it is easy to see that’s not what’s going on. The shelter at Cal Expo is intended for homeless people in the City of Sacramento, NOT for our local homeless people. Is this, then just another way for the City of Sacramento to push its homeless population into our community? Or is it a genuine, compassionate solution? If you want to comment on the proposal, send email to Sue O’Brien of the Cal Expo staff at email@example.com.
A homeless shelter at Cal Expo is not a done deal. Cal Expo has valid reasons why the proposed space is necessary for its business and why the proposed use is inconsistent with the State Fair and the many other expositions at Cal Expo. Add to that the notion of “safe ground”, which is about letting homeless people sleep in their cars or live in tents without fear of police crack-downs. Other cities have been using the concept with some success. Proponents of “safe ground” are beginning to get some listening behavior, as noted in the Bee today. Will there be a policy shift to the “safe ground” model? What does that mean, if anything, for the proposed expenditure of funds at Cal Expo? Or is this just more talk and less action while the plight of our local homeless people continues to spiral?