City Council amends homeless ballot measure to make it contingent on County partnership

The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday voted to amend an upcoming ballot measure to help ensure that the City and the County of Sacramento work together to provide the support needed to transition people out of homelessness.

Called the “Emergency Shelter and Enforcement Act of 2022,” the measure, which would require the City to build additional shelter space, will be on the November ballot but will not take effect until the City and County agree on a binding partnership agreement.

During Tuesday’s Council meeting, City Manager Howard Chan and Councilmembers discussed the fact that the City is not a health and human services agency. Sacramento County receives state and federal funds to provide health care to the poor and mental health and substance abuse treatment to those suffering on the street.

For Sacramento to be successful in addressing homelessness on a larger scale, creating additional shelter space is not enough, officials said. The City needs significant mental-health and addiction-treatment services from the County as well as housing support.

“If we’re going to move forward and not have a partnership with the County to provide services, we are doomed to fail,” Chan told the City Council.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the idea that the City could effectively reduce unsheltered homelessness and the impact of camps on neighborhoods without accompanying services is a “false promise.”

“Absent a clear mental health and substance abuse, shelter and housing commitment, the people who are most difficult and disruptive in our business corridors and neighborhoods will not just magically go away,” he said. “We must approach each other as partners in a genuine, open-minded way around what really can and does work.”

The Sacramento City Council in April voted to place the measure on the November ballot.  At that time, a business coalition backing the ballot measure pledged to get the County to adopt similar requirements. But the group failed to do so. In addition, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors this week approved measures outlawing camping on the American River Parkway and around certain public facilities.

Chan on Tuesday presented Council with the option of withdrawing the ballot measure or amending it to require a partnership agreement with the County before it takes effect. The Council opted for the latter course of action, with several members and Chan saying they were encouraged by recent interactions with County leadership and thought it would be possible to secure such an agreement before Election Day in November.

If an agreement between the City and County is reached and the measure is passed by voters, Sacramento would be the first city in the state, and likely the first in the country, to voluntarily hold itself to a legal shelter production standard. Similar requirements in Southern California have been the result of citizen lawsuits, not voluntary legislative action.

The City currently has about 1,100 shelter beds and spaces on any given night — a 10-fold increase over the past five years. The measure would require it to supply enough beds and spaces to accommodate a defined portion of the city’s unsheltered population as identified by the 2022 Point-in-Time count.

Once shelter was available, campers could be moved if they refused housing or shelter offered by the City.

Tuesday’s action amends the ordinance so it will take effect when the City Council and County Board of Supervisors both approve a legally binding partnership agreement, that, at a minimum, lays out the respective roles of the City and County to improve the homelessness crisis and the County’s responsibilities for providing certain services to the homeless people in the city who need them, including:

  • Mental health services
  • Substance-abuse services
  • Clinical outreach and case management to refer individuals to appropriate county services such as housing, medical care, employment, social services, and drug rehabilitation services; and
  • Child welfare and domestic violence services
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