By Crescenzo Vellucci
The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO, CA – For the second time in a month, the Sacramento County Grand Jury this week took Sacramento County “leaders” to task for failures to resolve issues around Sacramento area homelessness.
The latest Grand Jury report noted, “The road to homelessness is filled with variables..(to) understand the mental health and substance abuse crisis in the homeless, we must recognize their journey from stability to homelessness is a multi-step process,” citing living paycheck to paycheck, loss of a job or vehicle, inability to pay bill and reliance on food banks and then eviction.
“Most of these losses are often accelerated by alcohol and/or substance abuse and some mental health impairment. The most common afflictions are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and a small number with psychosis,” the report reads.
And then the Grand Jury gets serious, charging, “Appropriate mental health treatment for the homeless requires a roof where a substance free stable environment can be assured and proficient mental health treatment can be provided. Government rules and regulations that restrict the ability to provide that roof have not resulted in a decrease in homelessness.
“Often overlooked to successfully address mental health and substance abuse issues are issues, seemingly unrelated but directly contribute to these problems. The City, and the County in particular, have made several decisions that have made the problems worse.”
“Glaring examples” cited by the GJ include a “large inventory of multiple trailers and tiny homes sitting vacant,” “recent attempt to close the Miller Park encampment despite its success in providing basic services and getting people off the sidewalks” and “closing of the Bannon Island camp near Discovery Park, where elderly homeless were displaced without alternative housing.”
The Grand Jury said it “began its investigation with a narrow focus on mental health issues….(it) is apparent that government action – or inaction – has had a broad impact. The homeless population has increased along with mental health and substance abuse problems. Only treating those who are ill is not enough.
“Sacramento County leaders have failed to offer adequate treatment to thousands of homeless men and women who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse,” according to a statement released issued by the Sacramento County Grand Jury.
“Nearly 10,000 men, women, and children sleep on Sacramento County streets every night, and 50 percent to 80 percent of the men and women suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse. Homelessness in the County has ballooned 253 percent since 2018,” the statement continued.
“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 added, “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 statement charged “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.”
The Grand Jury made 11 recommendations, urging the “immediate development of a countywide strategic plan with specific goals and outcomes to address homelessness, and especially 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. He reiterated, “It’s dominated by the political infighting between the County and City of Sacramento officials and watered down with too many boards and committees.”
“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.”
The Grand Jury also recommended the County “dedicate more funds to innovative homeless programs, especially transitional housing that requires participants to be clean-and-sober,” with Wellsfry adding, “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.”
The GJ did note the County is building a County Mental Health Rehabilitation Center, a step-down facility, with 64 beds, in addition to 30 acute mental health inpatient beds, but noted it “falls far short of the estimated need by the County for 251 such beds, documented in a RAND study in 2022. The County closing of multiple acute mental health beds in the past has had dire consequences for access to appropriate care by those most in need.”
The report also hit the problems caused by a lack of communication in the county, honing in on the role of law enforcement and problems it causes.
Noting “those who are inebriated or high in public, but pose no other threat, are arrested and jailed, which results in increased health risk and high cost of incarceration as opposed to these alternatives. Whether this is lack of communication between service organizations and law enforcement, or by leadership in law enforcement to patrol officers, it is still a lack of communication.”
Finally, the Grand Jury said it “could not uncover any transparent report that showed where this $529.9 million (for County homeless) was being spent. Instead, this information is embedded in the budget which makes it difficult to determine where the funds are being allocated.”
“Accountability for the mental health and substance abuse programs in the County homeless population is lacking. While great sums of tax dollars are expended, the results are disappointing when large homeless encampments persist. A high number of homeless have mental health and/or substance abuse issues, and yet, integrated and coordinated treatment remains inadequate,” the GJ report added.