Safe ground in Sacramento: Lessons learned and applied to new Miller Park site

The City of Sacramento recently opened a new “safe ground” site in a parking lot in Miller Park to help people experiencing homelessness.

It replaces the City’s first temporary safe ground site, which opened in April 2021 near the I-80 freeway between W and X streets and closed earlier this month.

The lessons learned from the W/X safe ground already are being applied at the new site, according to Nick Golling, director of homeless services for the Department of Community Response.

Golling said data from the W/X safe ground prove that the concept can help people experiencing homelessness by providing safety and stability and building trust.

Of the 453 people who were served at the W/X site in its 10 months of operation, 192 – or 42 percent — exited the program into a more positive situation. That includes reconnecting with family, transitioning to an indoor shelter or supported living, or connecting with benefits that allow them to live independently.

“The 42 percent positive exit rate is high compared to similar programs,” Golling said. “The typical positive exit rate for this population is often in the 10 percent range, and we’re hoping for a better rate from the Miller Park site because it is in a better location, and we have better access control.”

That’s another lesson learned from W/X , Golling said – access control is critical.

“We have to have good control over who comes in and out of these facilities,” he said. “That wasn’t possible at W/X because of the way the site was laid out and the limited fencing. Our new Safe Ground has one access point so we can monitor who comes in more closely.”

The new safe ground site at Miller Park.

Golling said the Miller Park site also offers better control over the area surrounding the safe ground site.

“The City’s existing ordinances prohibit overnight camping in the park, except in our safe ground site, so we and the park rangers will be able to stop people from setting up unsanctioned camps nearby.”

The Miller Park site, also considered temporary, has 60 tents that can accommodate approximately 110 residents. Teams from the DCR began referring people into the site on Feb. 7.

In addition to the tents, the new site also offers security, restrooms, a shower trailer, water and meals. It is staffed 24/7 with people trained to help residents progress into sustainable housing.

DCR Director Bridgette Dean said safe ground can be a major step toward stability for some people.

“People experiencing homelessness typically live in near-constant fear,” said Dean, a licensed clinical social worker. “They are often victimized on the street, and they don’t know where they will sleep, get a meal or access other basic human needs. When we meet those needs in a safe environment, many people become ready to take the next step toward long-term sustainable housing.”

The tents at Miller Park are offered to the people living unsheltered in the immediate vicinity.

In addition to safe ground, the City also operates a variety of other emergency shelter types, including safe parking, congregate shelters, a motel voucher program and several sites that meet the specific needs of transitional-aged youth. Together, these programs have the space and resources to serve approximately 1,100 people.

The City also continues to explore other options and potential locations for providing homelessness services.

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