After two hours of counting and assessing Sacramento’s homeless population, the state’s top housing commissioner agreed that there is still a long way to go before the city’s problem is solved.
Our systems, our capacity, and our data are being built, and communities are rising to the occasion. Lourdes Castro Ramirez, secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, stated, “I know people are tremendously unhappy because they don’t see that improvement.”
“However, I doubt you’ll see long-lasting changes overnight.”
As she spoke, a homeless encampment was engulfed in flames just a few blocks away.
The fire in the San Francisco encampment that killed a woman earlier that day, which Governor Gavin Newsom labeled “unconscionable,” did not result in any injuries. The inferno they had called home was doused with hundreds of gallons of water by firefighters as scores of campers huddled beneath the Highway 50 on-ramp watched in horror.
‘I don’t know what’s going to happen,’ said John Vasquez, who said he had been living there for about two years. “We don’t have any resources. Everything was destroyed in the fire. “Bring clothes, a tent, and your ID.”
Sacramento’s point-in-time count, the kind of Census of people experiencing homelessness across California last week, prompted volunteers to dial 911. Homelessness in California has reached a tipping point, according to experts, and the stats are expected to show it.
California’s homeless population was last counted in January 2020, and at least 161,000 people were found without a place to sleep on any given night. About a third of the homeless population was long-term or chronically homeless, and Black Californians made up roughly half of the total.
During the worst pandemic in a century, the globe has altered dramatically.
New shelter beds and housing units were built across the state with billions of dollars from the state’s coffers. Although many experts blame homelessness on the housing affordability issue, millions of people lost their jobs and rents surged, making the situation worse.
To combat the coronavirus, federal officials persuaded local law enforcement not to disassemble camps like the one in Sacramento, which made tent cities more conspicuous than ever. As a result, the number of available beds was limited.
As a result, most researchers aren’t concerned about whether the number of people living on the streets is going to rise. What remains to be seen is exactly how much.
Due to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s exclusion of those who are couch-surfing or sleeping in cheap motels in their definition of homelessness, the results of California’s tally are likely to be undercounted. That means families with children who are on the verge of a crisis are most likely to be neglected, according to researchers.
HUD later confirmed the accuracy of these estimates, which are mostly based on the observations of volunteers and estimates from local agencies for places they do not serve.
According to HUD regional administrator Jason Pu, who oversees the state of California as well as the U.S. territories of Arizona and Hawaii, “I’m counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, maybe 8 tents over there,” the line of tents and tarps alongside Highway 50 can be seen from his perch across the dim street. “I’m curious as to your thoughts on this.”
According to Chris Weare, a UC Berkeley lecturer who studies homelessness, cities with a decline in volunteers because of the ongoing epidemic may record a drop in the homeless population, even if it expanded.
To maintain their funding from the state and federal governments, cities are required to keep their homeless population figures artificially low for political reasons. However, Weare argues that certain jurisdictions do just that.
He said, “Consider the headlines.”
Is it really making a difference with all this money?
At a small kickoff event at CSU Sacramento, Castro Ramirez stated that despite its limitations, the count nevertheless serves as an invitation for policymakers to engage with the people who will be affected by their decisions.
Jessica Hud, who has been homeless for five years and has been living in the encampment on X and 10th Street for seven months, stated, “Very few people come over here and talk to us.”
According to recent polls of their housed neighbors, many think that the situation is at its worst, just like the government’s handling of homelessness.
Husband Rocknie Simon, who has been homeless for approximately ten years, said he’s lived in Sacramento all his life and had never seen anything like it.
Because the state spends so much money, why isn’t it more evident on the streets?
Activists and government officials alike blame decades of underfunding. Redevelopment agencies, tasked with reviving “blighted” districts across the state, began to be disbanded by the state in 2012. It wasn’t until the end of redevelopment that California lawmakers began to fill the gap in the state’s non-federal funding for affordable housing.
Over the past few years, we’ve been working to fix the damage that has been done by decades of disinvestment and lack of prioritization.”
When it comes to a problem that has been fermenting since the Vietnam War, we can’t expect to solve it in five years, according to Jennifer Loving, CEO of San Jose-based nonprofit Destination: Home. In her neighborhood, for every two people who have a place to call home, three more are found to be on the streets.
As difficult as it is to keep track of how many individuals are homeless, it is even more difficult to keep track of how much money the state is spending on them.
In a recent meeting, Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, said, “I know (the governor) is frustrated, I know the Legislature is frustrated, and the public is frustrated.” “We’ve spent billions and billions of dollars on this problem. There is no indication of where we have made progress.
According to the State Auditor, the lack of readily available data is due in part to the fact that local organizations providing services to the homeless have not always been obligated to report their results to the state. A flurry of legislation introduced last year is intended to alter this.
Interagency Council on Homelessness, a newly formed state organization, will deliver an interim report this summer, analyzing the results of state expenditures from 2018 to 2021, followed by a comprehensive study in December, utilizing $5.6 million.
More stricter planning and reporting requirements are attached to newly appropriated funds: Cities and counties will receive $2 billion over two years from the state to address homelessness, and about a fifth of that money will be put aside as bonus cash for those who achieve their goals.
Local officials’ newly published data still give some information about how the homeless population is being served.
According to the state’s 2020 report, more than 246,000 people were serviced by local organizations, and over 40 percent of those people were able to find housing. It’s possible that a person who was homeless at the beginning of the year had found a place to live at the end.
In terms of where individuals went, what programs functioned best, and whose service providers performed best and worst, the data doesn’t tell us anything about this information.
It’s not showing up in the homelessness field because we’re in this state that’s driving the data revolution, says UC Berkeley’s Weare.
“We’ve spent billions and billions of dollars on this problem. There is no indication of where we have made progress.
Assemblyman Phil Ting, who serves as the committee’s chairman, says state legislators set aside $12 billion for homelessness last summer, but the majority of that money has yet to be spent.
Although this year’s surplus is higher, it is difficult to evaluate Newsom’s proposal for extra expenditure because of a lack of data.
In addition to the $50 million in grants Newsom announced last week for sheltering or rehousing 1,400 people currently in camps, the state would provide $1.5 billion for temporary bridge housing and $500 million to deal with encampments.
Democrat Assembly member Wendy Carrillo, chair of the budget panel in charge of homelessness in the California Assembly, said, “We’re stuck.
As a result, “We’re releasing this funds to be able to help solve this issue, but in return, data is not getting back fast enough for the Legislature to make an informed choice as to, are we going to invest more dollars into something and does it work?”
A special session to address homelessness has been proposed by Republican legislators, but they say it hasn’t gained support in the Democratic legislature’s supermajority.
In a unique session, you can devote all your attention to that one goal. On the heels of the homeless count, “we’re hopeful that the governor will take a special look,” said state Sen. Patricia Bates, a Republican who represents Laguna Hills.
Californian soil at this time
At the Feb. 23 opening event, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg remarked, “Counting people is different than helping folks get off the streets.” In 2019, there were at least 5,500 homeless people in the county, and he expects that number to rise even further this year.
Housing and sheltering as a human and legal right, as well as mental health care and treatment, were among his other pledges. “Here in the city and county of Sacramento, we are dedicated,” he said. “That’s what we’re obligated to do after this count.”
Earlier this year, Steinberg sponsored an ordinance that would compel the city to build enough housing units or temporary shelters to accommodate everyone who needs them by 2023.
They’d have to come in if they had to choose between two available places to live or shelter. However, if those sites aren’t made available, the individual concerned may be able to bring legal action against the city.
Helping people get off the streets differs from counting people.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento
A legal assessment of the idea, which was received with heated criticism from some campaigners, is currently underway. In November, local residents may be asked to vote on two ballot measures that are very similar.
The goal is to remove the growing number of encampments emerging across the city, which are not only a nuisance to residents and businesses but also a danger to the people who live there. The city would have to drastically boost the number of indoor activities available to residents, something it has thus far failed to achieve.
At least one homeless campfire is reported to the Sacramento Fire Department every day, spokeswoman Keith Wade said. There are fewer fires that could have a significant impact on key infrastructure, he said.
The on-ramp had to be shut down “for a while” by CalTrans to ensure that it could hold up traffic in the future. Arson is a strong possibility, according to Wade’s assessment.
According to him, “It is not uncommon for one person facing homelessness to burn another’s personal belongings because it is the only thing they have left in this world.”
Vasquez, who was forced to flee the camp, has no idea what lies ahead for him. This man had been living in an apartment before becoming homeless but was unable to pay the rent because his housemates had left.
He inquired, “What can we do?” Make a fresh start with nothing. We started with nothing, and we’ll finish with nothing.”