By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has said many times that the unhoused situation that affects nearly 6,000 individuals in the county of Sacramento is a safety, economic and public health crisis that affects every resident living in the region.

During his 2021 State of the City address held outside the newly refurbished SAFE Credit Union Convention Center (SCUCC) on the last day of June, he reiterated his description of homelessness and unveiled a new plan of action that carries a $75 million funding tag.

Steinberg calls his strategy the “Homeless Housing Master Siting Plan,” a city-wide initiative that would bring safer living conditions equipped with services to help the unhouse transition into short-term and permanent housing.

“I am optimistic, as you know, and I don’t expect a cure for this problem but I know that we can make it better,” Steinberg said of a plan that intends to provide housing for the unhoused. “We will be able to help thousands, regulate  where it is not appropriate to camp and we will all begin to see and feel a difference. It is time, it is far past time to address the root of his dysfunction rather than the symptoms.” 

Later in July, the members of City Council will present properties in their districts that would accommodate more bedding, roofs, parking, tiny homes, safe spaces, and outdoor camping sites. 

The plan will go to the City Council on July 20 for an up-and-down vote. Steinberg also identified several funding sources that would make the plan feasible.

“I proposed that the city put up $75 million from a combination of American Rescue Plan money, the generous (California) state budget, other federal sources, and our own Housing Trust Fund to carry out our homeless housing master plan,” Steinberg said.

The where and the how Steinberg will implement the master plan will come to light in the next few weeks. But the now, meaning the current situation, is visibly showing that areas have gotten worse in the city of Sacramento. 

Places such as Oak Park, the Stockton Boulevard corridor, and just about every street between 5th street and 30 street bordered by W and X streets are filled with encampments. The areas exhibit a high number of Black people too. 

The U.S. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, says in its annual 2019 report Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, that Black homeless people in Sacramento city and county roughly accounted for 2,500 individuals. Local homeless advocates believe 40% of those unhoused in the region are African American.

A majority of the Sacramento region’s focus is on the mentally illness aspect of chronic homelesseness. About 25% of people experiencing homelessness have mental health issues, according to reports over the years issued by HUD.

The people living in these areas and other parts of the city reside in city and county parks, vehicles, abandoned buildings, and in some of the most unconventional areas that are not suitable for living.

Finding an unhoused person stationed at a stop sign, bus stop, or clearly on a sidewalk is not an uncommon site in Sacramento and Steinberg stated that the situation on the streets “has grown worse during the pandemic.”

“This challenge dominates our agenda. It is a housing affordability crisis,” Steinberg said during his address. “It is also a clear failure of a still broken mental health system, a cause to which I have devoted my entire public career. And it is a profound failure of public policy.”

Steinberg also brought up other policies he would like to put in place that are directed toward the African American community. He said he will continue to support the efforts to curb gun and gang violence in the communities by working with many grassroot organizations.

Steinberg, who just joined an 11-member coalition of city mayors to examine reparations, said an ordinance that requires that every major budget and policy decisions should be passed to “further the cause of equity and economic justice.”

“We are also developing a funded reparation strategy with our African American community to build more African American entrepreneurship and homeownership,” Steinberg said. “All of this is possible in part because we have more federal and state help than ever before.” 

Sierra Health Foundation (SFH) President and CEO Chet Hewitt was part of the festivities at the mayor’s early morning function. Hewitt and his staff at SHF were instrumental in seeing that the Black community’s needs are serviced during the pandemic.

Hewitt was pleased to hear that the mayor was intent on shoring up housing for the unhoused, making the playing field more equal in the job market, and helping the Black community increase its presence from an economic standpoint.

“The mayor’s state of the city address message offered a path forward to a more inclusive and equitable Sacramento with something for every corner of the city to be hopeful about,” Hewitt told The OBSERVER. “And while I have questions about several issues, the big question, especially for the Black community, will be Mayor Steinberg’s ability to get his colleagues on the City Council and the city manager to support his ambition.” 

Hewitt continued, “We must be ready to hold them all accountable for their progress towards real results and change for those who need it most.” 

The last time Steiberg delivered a State of the City address was in 2019 at the Sam and Bonnie Pannell Community Center in Meadowview. The pandemic forced the annual event into a virtual setting for the public in 2020. 

“Beautiful good morning,” Steinberg said to the attendees at the event held in an outdoor setting at SCUCC. “It is so wonderful to see you together again.”

Steinberg’s 2021 State of the City address touched on several topics, including helping local businesses affected by the pandemic, affordable housing, and police reform.  

The mayor’s address arrives two weeks after the Sacramento City Council adopted a $1.3 billion budget to direct spending for the 2021-22 fiscal year that begins July 1.

The Sacramento Police Department will  have a $166 million operating budget for the next 12 months, five new hired officers, and majority of the department’s $9.4 million increase will go toward raises and pension payments for existing employees.

The Council voted 7-2 in favor of the budget proposed by City Manager Howard Chan. Members from the Black community publicly said that they wanted to cut at least $30 million from the police department and redirect the money to social needs. 

The budget also contains $2.3 million for the city’s new Department of Community Response, bringing total funding for the department to $4 million thus far.

The department was proposed by Steinberg as an effort to better handle non-violent calls concerning homelessness and mental health individuals with social workers rather than law enforcement. Its budget is expected to grow substantially as Director Bridgette Dean will serve as DCR director and she is expected to hire more staff.

The city will also have a lot more cash to spend over the coming year for workforce training, youth, helping small businesses and reducing homelessness when it adopts a spending plan for the $112 million it is receiving through the American Rescue Plan.

“Twenty-twenty showed us what we can do with smart local investments,” Steinberg said. “With that, no part of our city should be left behind.”