City establishes new ‘Incident Management Team’ to respond to the homelessness crisis

The City of Sacramento has established a new “Incident Management Team” (IMT) to ensure that all available resources are being utilized and leveraged in the best manner possible for response to the homelessness crisis.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced the new approach, modeled after the City’s approach to natural disasters, in his State of the City forum Wednesday afternoon.

“The elements of our emergency response on homelessness must be the same as for every other disaster – rapid deployment and response, the immediate sharing of information, and a daily accountability to the public to help more people and ensure a clean, safe community,” Steinberg said.

The City previously has employed a coordinated interdepartmental response to homelessness. However, the IMT structure, based on work by the National Incident Management System (NIMS), is appropriate considering the gravity and urgency required to effectively address homelessness in Sacramento, said City Manager Howard Chan.

“IMTs are traditionally used when agencies respond to events such as wildfires, floods and other incidents that affect the overall health and safety of a community,” Chan said. “Given the complex and dynamic nature of the issues we are addressing, this organizational structure makes perfect sense.”

The IMT consists of representatives from the City Manager’s Office, the City’s Department of Community Response, the Sacramento Police Department, the Sacramento Fire Department, Code Enforcement, Public Works, the City Attorney’s Office, the Office of Emergency Management and Animal Care.

An incident commander from the Sacramento Fire Department will oversee the team’s objectives related to operations, planning, logistics and finance/administration and report directly to Assistant City Manager Mario Lara, who has visited other U.S. cities in the past year to observe and learn from their responses to homelessness.

The IMT is tasked with responding to 311 calls for service and directing coordinated, comprehensive responses to address large encampments. It will meet multiple times each week to collectively strategize and manage all efforts related to outreach, enforcement and camp management/cleanup. The team will also track and report on metrics such as contacts, services offered and outcomes.

The IMT’s structure works well to incorporate external partners, such as representatives from the County of Sacramento, local health-care providers and others, Chan said.

Homeless response and results

Lara on June 27 gave a presentation to the City Council that outlined the City’s current homeless response protocol, which balances outreach and services with enforcement and compliance, taking into account Council direction as well as a complex legal environment.

The City’s response to violations of City Code — such as blocked sidewalks — typically involves a sequenced approach in which the Department of Community Response first seeks voluntary compliance and offers connection to available services.

If voluntary compliance is not achieved, then Code Enforcement or the Sacramento Police Department will respond, also seeking voluntary compliance before employing other enforcement tools.

Over the past year, the City has responded to more than 4,500 calls for service regarding blocked sidewalks and building entrances. This work has been conducted in accordance with the Council directive to seek compliance in order to avoid fining or booking people into jail and to prioritize outreach.

The City also has successfully used its response protocol to conduct large-scale encampment cleanup activities, most recently at 29th and C streets in July and at Roseville Road in April and June. The work at Roseville Road, for example, resulted in the removal of more than 215,000 pounds of trash.

In terms of vehicle violations, Code Enforcement in the first six months of this year abated more than 1,100 abandoned, wrecked, dismantled or inoperative vehicles.

The Sacramento Police Department has also conducted extensive enforcement to address criminal conduct within the City. Between August 2022 and July 2023, SPD made 20,106 total arrests. Just over half of these arrests were for felonies (10,965), with 3,703 felony arrests — almost 34% — involving people who self-identified as experiencing homelessness. Of the 8,912 misdemeanor arrests, 2,966 – or approximately 33% — were of people who self-identified as experiencing homelessness.

Charges included drug possession, domestic violence, parole violations, trespassing after a notice was given, stolen vehicles, assault and vandalism.

Based on the 2022 Point in Time Count, there are approximately 4,444 people experiencing homelessness within the City limits (with another 594 individuals residing within segments of the American River Parkway that fall within City limits). This equates to less than 1% of the City’s population.

Moving forward, the City remains committed to providing support to its most vulnerable residents while also seeking compliance with its laws and ordinances, officials said. The City also remains committed to following all legal mandates, such as the recent injunction by a federal court that temporarily bars the City from enforcing some of its ordinances involving homeless encampments.

“Enforcement of City ordinances and performing management and cleanup activities entails so much more than just citing or arresting people,” Lara said. “The City’s efforts to protect the health and safety of the community and gain compliance take on many forms and will be significantly aided by the establishment of the IMT.”

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