Sacramento City Manager Howard Chan “raised an alarm this week about funding for the city’s existing homeless shelters even as the City Council pushes to open more large sites to address the community’s growing homelessness crisis,” the Sacramento Bee reported Thursday.
The city has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the state and federal government over the course of many years. Where did the money go? Or is this just saber rattling for more money?
“Chan this week told the council the city can’t count on having the $33 million it needs to provide the roughly 1,000 spaces it currently offers past July 1. That’s in contrast to the council’s August direction to free up $100 million to open 20 new sites for homeless shelters, tiny homes and Safe Ground sanctioned encampments,” the Bee reported.
$33 million to provide 1,000 spaces is $33,000 per space. Who is the city paying that kind of money? What is it going to take to get to the bottom of this bottomless pit of homeless funding?
However, Chan wisely warned the council Tuesday, “It’s important we don’t get side tracked by new sites. We have not yet identified funding for the current (ones).”
Earlier this week, the Globe reported on the labyrinth of city “programs” and “services” which few homeless people can actually access on their own:
On the City of Sacramento website titled “Responding to Homelessness, leads to another city website, this is what the city says about homeless programs. That website takes you to two other city pages only offering the homeless “Safe Parking” in a parking lot on the southern section of Front Street. Eventually another link takes you to housing programs coordinated through Sacramento Steps Forward “for transitional or permanent housing,” because the city’s focus is on “housing first,” a losing holdover from the Obama administration.
The Globe also warned:
“if the City of Sacramento isn’t successful in helping the thousands of lost souls into legitimate programs, they don’t shut down. They don’t lose money. And no one is fired.
Instead, those who run city programs say they need more funding, because really, these are government jobs programs. The purpose of the program is secondary.”
The Bee reports Sacramento County has an estimated 10,000 unhoused individuals (it’s more than 11,000), “and all shelter beds and spaces are full on any given night. Because of the crisis, the council is charging ahead with at least two new large sites, which Mayor Darrell Steinberg is calling ‘hubs.’”
“We get the money in this city,” Steinberg said. “We do. I’ve been pretty successful at it. We’re successful at it together. And these larger projects could be the opportunity we have been seeking for a long time.”
Is it all about the money, and not solving the devastating homeless crisis on city streets?
The Mayor and City Council now calls Sacramento’s drug-addicted, mentally ill homeless vagrant population the “unhoused,” “people experiencing homelessness,” “guests,” and “our unhoused neighbors,” as if these really are our neighbors who were just one paycheck away from living on the streets.
Demonstrating lack of effectiveness, Mayor Steinberg floated an alarming idea at his State of the City address last week: with so many state workers continuing to work remotely long-term, he’d like to utilize empty state offices for housing the city’s homeless.
And that is the primary problem with how Mayor Steinberg has addressed homelessness – as if it’s a housing problem, rather than a mental health and drug addiction problem.
The Bee reports: “City officials have for months been trying to acquire a downtown building at an unidentified location, and it could be finalized soon,” Chan said. “This downtown site, which we obviously cannot be public about in terms of its location yet, is a tremendous opportunity, not only for our collaboration with the county…but also what it could mean for a more comprehensive campus kind of approach,” Steinberg said. “It all takes a long time, too long, but I think we are getting there on this particular opportunity.”
Smoke and mirrors?
The city created “Sacramento Steps Forward” in 2009 as a “policy committee,” and in 2011, the City/County turned it into a non-profit organization. Yet Sacramento Steps Forward manages/administers all of the state and federal funding received: “The Sacramento CoC (Sacramento City and County Continuum of Care) receives and administers both Federal and State funding to support local efforts to more effectively and efficiently address homelessness in a variety of capacities,” Sacramento Steps Forward says in its 2019-2020 Annual Report.
The Globe tried to access other Sacramento Steps Forward annual reports since 2011 on its website, but there are no live links.
In 2019-2020, Sacramento Steps Forward received $25,990,012 from the State, and $23,349,292 from the Federal government (above). Most of the nearly $50 million was earmarked for housing. They spent nearly $802,000 on “administration.”
Notably, mental health and drug addiction treatment is not identified on these charts.
In the 2019-2020 Annual Report, Sacramento Steps Forward acknowledges 11,222 homeless in Sacramento. And that number is not all-inclusive because they do not count those already in shelters, even temporarily.
Of the 11,222 homeless people in Sacramento in 2019-2020, Sacramento Steps Forward says “2,761 people achieved permanent housing, 4,418 people remained connected to the system. The system lost contact with 4,043 people.”
So Sacramento spent nearly $4,400 per homeless person in 2019-2020, only to “lose contact” with 4,043, and “house” 2,761. And it took $50 million to do this?
Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions is what Sacramento Steps Forward does, explained in their “leadership and engagement” of:
“As a leading voice in the Homeless Response System, we are committed to collaborating with our partners and facilitating system connections to build upon our current systems. We focus on strengthening our community’s response to homelessness through the use of data and analytics to drive system-level changes, prioritizing racial equity, and enhancing access to services.”
They say they are “committed,” but only to “collaborating” with “partners to build upon our current systems.”
That’s no commitment at all.
Their real “commitment” is here:
“Designated by the community as the Sacramento City and County Continuum of Care (CoC) lead agency to receive U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding and undertaking planning activities and projects should receive funding.”
Sacramento Steps Forward was created to receive money from the government?
“Our staff then works with selected agencies and their projects to ensure compliance with funding requirements. We provide guidance about how funds can be used appropriately and assistance with reporting how that money has been invested.”
Sacramento Steps Forward then guides “select agencies” on how the government money can be used.
Sacramento Steps Forward also collects data on the homeless.
In their Annual Report revenue and expenses section, the $23,349,292 from the Federal Government is not listed:
Which leads us to the original question: How does Sacramento not have funding to maintain existing homeless shelters when it received “$22,466,281 Permanent Supportive Housing, Rapid-Re-Housing,” as the 2019-2020 Annual Report identifies. We know Sacramento received more federal funds for housing since 2020. Sacramento was on the 2021 HUD list of 651 grantees including states, counties and city governments; Sacramento received $9,125,315.
The Globe contacted Sacramento Steps Forward Executive Director Lisa Bates with questions about the state and federal grants they received, and how they reported funding on their annual IRS Form 990. Janet Rice with Sacramento Steps Forward called back.
Ms. Rice said that the Annual Report shows funding covering multiple years, and the IRS form 990 was reflecting only actual funding received, and then audited.
She said Bates “wanted to have some firm numbers for the Annual Report reflect part of actual funding received.”
Rice also said when they issued the 2019-2020 Annual Report, their 2020 audit was not done until 2021.
It really didn’t add up. The Globe sought out a second opinion from local government watchdog, Eye On Sacramento think tank President Craig Powell.
“Sacramento Steps Forward has manifestly failed in its basic mission to reduce homelessness,” Powell told the Globe. “It operates in a no man’s land between city and county government with neither government directly responsible or accountable for its chronic failure to perform.”
“Its information management system, which homeless people are supposed to depend upon, is a an unmitigated disaster,” Powell continued. “Ironically, city and county governments are putting Sacramento Steps Forward in charge of overseeing a new multi-year, multi-million dollar project to replace its current info management system. The prognosis for its success is not good.”
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