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4/9/22

 

Joint Statement with Councilmember Vang RE: Emergency Shelter and Enforcement Act

 

Three days after the worst tragedy in our city’s history, and after just one day of public review, our colleagues on the Sacramento City Council voted 7-2 to put forward a ballot measure that will fundamentally detract from the work Sacramento has put into addressing our homelessness crisis.

Special interests were able to bully city leaders into making a shameful and dangerous decision to put a measure that was negotiated behind closed doors on the November ballot. The proponents used the threat of current signature-gathering efforts for a financially devastating ballot measure, along with the very real and justifiable frustration of the entire community, to push through an ill-conceived and harmful ordinance.

Current law and practice allow the city to enforce laws against trespassing on private property — and against any illegal activity — regardless of housing status. What we cannot do is remove someone from public property without a bed to offer them.

In an effort to address camping on public property, the ordinance requires the city to provide shelter for 60% of the unhoused population. Refusing shelter at that point would potentially result in prosecution under the existing unlawful camping ordinance.

Proponents of the measure advertise this as a solution to the crisis on our streets. But the details of the proposed policy are troubling.

This ordinance does not build on the practices that have worked best in other cities. It does not ensure that we will have the mental health, substance abuse and other supportive services unhoused people may need. And it does not address the root issues that are leading to the exponential growth in our local unhoused population.

There are many problems with a one-size-fits-all approach to shelter. Some unhoused people may decline available services because they don’t meet their needs. Nearly 75% of women without homes have been sexually assaulted, for example, and it’s unacceptable to force an assault victim to move into a co-ed shelter. Over two-thirds of homeless veterans suffer from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, and it would be unacceptable to force them into a congregate situation in which their condition could be exacerbated.

Compelling people to put themselves in situations that don’t work for them is inhumane and harmful, and it flies in the face of the goals the ballot measure’s proponents say they want to achieve.

While we disagreed with the overall approach and circumstances of the measure, we offered amendments to give it a chance to create a real path forward.

Our language would have integrated the practices of experienced homeless service providers into the initiative. We also wanted to link implementation by the city to action by the county, without which we cannot hope to provide the necessary services or scale of facilities to address the need in our community. Our amendments also included stronger language to protect historically disenfranchised communities from an overconcentration of emergency shelters in their neighborhoods.

Those amendments were largely rejected.

Fifty years ago, redlining was used to push Black, brown, Indigenous, immigrant and other populations into underserved neighborhoods. Though the target may have changed, the unintended consequences of this week’s shortsighted decision will lead to the same outcomes: Forcing unhoused residents out of sight and out of mind without any concern for what they may face as a result.