By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – “Sacramento County leaders have failed to offer adequate treatment to thousands of homeless men and women who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse,” a report issued by the Sacramento County Grand Jury concluded after a months-long investigation.
The report found that nearly 10,000 men, women, and children sleep on Sacramento County streets every night, and 50% to 80% of the men and women suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse. Homelessness in the county has ballooned 253% since 2018.
“The numbers skyrocket year after year and local government has failed to respond effectively. This occurs despite spending more than $300 million on homeless services over that period,” the report found. “That price tag does not include the enormous cost of law enforcement, public health, sanitation, lost commerce, or the impact on the quality of life of in Sacramento County and its seven incorporated communities.”
“Even though the County of Sacramento has the financial responsibility for the unhoused mentally ill or substance abusers, their use of federal, state, and local funds has lacked a comprehensive, coordinated strategy and has developed very few measurable goals and outcomes” said Norv Wellsfry, Grand Jury Foreperson.
Wellsfry said, “The public approach to homelessness is diluted and ineffective because it’s dominated by political infighting between the County and City of Sacramento officials and watered down with too many boards and committees.”
The Grand Jury noted that millions of dollars are being spent to treat the homeless mentally ill and substance abusers. Multiple programs have been instituted with little coordination or cooperation among the providers. Yet mental illness and substance abuse among the homeless continues to proliferate.
“There are lots of meetings,” Wellsfry said, “lots of plans, lots of special commissions, and lots of public concern. But real change remains an illusion.”
On December 6, 2022, the County and the City of Sacramento approved the Homeless Services Partnership Agreement.
That agreement: “It emphasized jurisdictions would work together to decrease the homeless population. This Partnership Agreement is designed to improve coordination and increase services and programs to meet the unhoused needs and move individuals out of homelessness in the City and the unincorporated of the County.”
Among the key provisions:
- The County will place all shelter beds into the upcoming Coordinated Access System; some beds may be prioritized based on population served or geography.
- The County is opening 200 new shelter beds within 12 months and an additional 200 beds within 36 months in the unincorporated County (County Funded).
- The County will operate 200 additional shelter beds in the City jurisdiction, provided the City provides a shovel-ready site (County/City funded).
The report also noted “a severe lack of affordable housing in the County.” The Grand Jury report noted, “Many of those interviewed acknowledged this as a primary driver of initial homelessness. Housing costs in Sacramento County nearly doubled over the past decade. Homelessness has inevitably followed.”
Indeed, “Sacramento has more unsheltered people than the entire state of New York. The majority of homeless in New York state live in transitional housing or emergency shelters. In Sacramento, the opposite is true—the majority sleep in tents, cars, and doorways.”
The report noted, “A lack of housing can be fatal. Homeless deaths from hypothermia are rising. Eight homeless people died in Sacramento County in the unhoused community due to hypothermia in 2021.”
Among the Grand Jury’s 11 recommendations, it calls for the immediate development of a countywide strategic plan with specific goals and outcomes to address homelessness, and especially for those who are mentally ill or abusing illegal substances.
The report also recommends the creation of a new Deputy County Executive position who would have budgetary and implementation authority in the County’s efforts to reduce homelessness.
“There is a real leadership void in the local homelessness arena,” Wellsfry said. As indicated above, he said, “It’s dominated by the political infighting between the County and City of Sacramento officials and watered down with too many boards and committees.”
Another recommendation offered by the Grand Jury urges the county to dedicate more funds to innovative homeless programs, especially transitional housing that requires participants to be clean-and-sober.
Wellsfry said, “It is time for the County and other government entities to step up to the plate and address the problem, giving it the serious attention it deserves.”