Sacramento County’s 2022 homeless count reported a 67 percent rise in the unsheltered population since 2020. The numbers, not experienced by our neighbors in Yolo (13.9 percent) or Placer counties (under 1 percent), reflect policy failures.
Even Los Angeles (4.1 percent) and San Francisco (3.5 percent decrease) demonstrated significantly lower growth in homelessness.
Reversing course is not easy. But there’s a pathway forward if we accept some hard truths.
First, we must acknowledge Sacramento County’s lack of leadership as the reason behind the crisis. Counties, not cities, are legally responsible for health and human services delivery.
Many homeless people—estimates say almost 80 percent—struggle with mental illness or addiction. Often their living conditions exacerbate the problems. No matter the cause, public solutions to mental health and addiction fall squarely on the county’s shoulders.
Second, Sacramento County chose to adopt a speculative, one-size-fits-all approach to homelessness- Housing First- in 2017. Subsequently, Sacramento County experienced a 19 percent increase in homelessness (2019 over 2017) and a 67 percent increase (2022 over 2020), putting it far ahead of neighbors and peers.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to homelessness, especially one that turns a blind eye to the primary issues that underlie homelessness. Yet, the county’s “housing subsidies only, no treatment” approach continues to govern as the county’s policy response to the region’s health and human services crisis.
Third, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has abdicated its responsibility to hold the County Executive and her staff accountable for their failed policies and inability to address the crisis.
The County Executive describes the homeless crisis as unacceptable yet fails to take responsibility for her advocacy of failed policies and programs. Publicly, she won’t even recognize a need for policy change.
Voters must demand that Sacramento County restructure its policy approach and rebuild its staff leadership to implement and manage successful homeless strategies. Until this happens, no matter what parking lot is purchased, or what ban is imposed, the region’s homeless crisis will continue to grow.
You may not agree with the City of Sacramento’s attempts to lead, but it’s important to recognize that the county’s failures gave Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the Council the opportunity to take the reins.
As the city took on more responsibility, the county retreated further into the darkness.
The business community, out of understandable frustration, is promoting Measure O—the Emergency Shelter Enforcement Act—to require the city to provide beds to the homeless and the county to provide health and human services.
It’s important to note that the city not only lacks the ongoing funding streams to sustain the new beds, but it also lacks the personnel to perform these duties. As a result, it will need to hire more employees if Measure O is instituted.
Here’s the problem. New city employees will duplicate personnel that already exists at the county. Duplicate employees will swallow up public funds, add to tax burdens, and further blur lines of responsibility.
Failure to perform will invite lawsuits against the city and county… lawsuits which will likely further stymie action and dilute funding.
Last year, 227 homeless people died on Sacramento streets- the highest rate ever recorded.
Last month, a 74-year-old Carmichael resident was randomly and senselessly murdered by an inebriated, homeless perpetrator, according to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office.
A course correction is needed to put the region on the right path. But the solution, at this time, is not Measure O. Instead, voters must focus on county government and demand effective policies to lead the region out of its crisis, with the city of Sacramento, and other cities in the county, in partnership.