By Antonio R. Harvey | Observer Staff Writer

The Sacramento City Council voted 9-0 unanimously on a resolution that would start the process of building more than 20 sites in eight council districts to provide shelter for unhoused individuals and families. 

After nearly five hours that included a presentation, deliberations, and listening to the public’s concerns, Mayor Darrell Steinberg finally got approval for his $100 million siting plan.

“We believe that we can help over 9,000 people a year get out of their terrible circumstances into something better,” Steinberg said at a news conference the day after the vote. “None of this is easy (and) implementation is everything. I believe the strong council vote last night, the will of the council, the will of the community, and the need to make this the top implementation of our city will lead to good and great results.”

Now titled the “Comprehensive Siting Plan” at the request of City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, the proposal will create more than 5,000 beds, roofs, and safe camping spaces to mount an effective response to the growing crisis of homelessness. 

The detailed proposal is the product of more than six months of intensive outreach, workshops, community meetings, and work by the mayor’s office, city staff, and city government.

A large campus solution is also proposed as a joint future effort by the city and county of Sacramento. The humanitarian crisis would be addressed at the new site with medical and behavioral health services for those unsheltered who need treatment and housing. 

The final product identified 20-plus new

sites by the City Council for safe parking, safe ground organized camping, tiny homes and manufactured housing, and emergency shelter beds. 

A total of 15 are publicly-owned sites and five are privately-owned. When fully operational, the sites will provide the capacity to shelter and house 4,700 individuals.

The programmatic strategies also include a large center that identifies temporary and permanent housing for another 5,125 persons annually. In total, the Comprehensive Plan Annual Capacity estimate serving at least 9,820 people.

The mayor said Sacramento’s comprehensive plan could possibly be out in front of cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Stockton, which all have a severe unhoused crisis. 

“Other cities in California I know are taking aggressive approaches and are doing a really good job. But I do not know of any city in the state or the country that has sought approval for multiple sites at one time,” Steinberg told The OBSERVER. “I hope it’s a model. Absolutely. I’d love Sacramento to lead. The biggest challenge is siting. So yes, this should be a state and national model.”

Another issue the city has to deal with going forward with the plan, a concern that was brought up repeatedly during the city council meeting, was that of systemic racism. 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, says that the state of California says 128,777 individuals experienced homelessness in 2019 based on the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. Over 108,000 people were tabulated as unsheltered and more than 41,000 suffered through chronic homelessness in 2019.

African Americans accumulate close to 40% of homeless people in California. Overall, HUD’s annual report also showed that Sacramento city and county accounted for 5,561 unhoused people. African Americans make up 14% of the country’s population but 52% of the homeless issue, overall.

Steinberg was not shy in saying why those numbers are high in the Black community.

“This is what it means to me: African Americans are dispositionally impacted by homelessness. The percentage of African Americans is much higher than the percentage of the African American population in Sacramento,” Steinberg said. “That’s true around the state and that is a result of systemic racism. So (we) have to approach a racial equity lens with this and go after this. Get people housed.” 

Chett Hewitt, the CEO of Sierra Health Foundation, said his health-focus nonprofit is on board with the mayor’s comprehensive plan and said it “advances a bold plan” that will need support from the county as well.

Hewitt, who said he lives in Valenzuela’s District 4, also stated that systemic racism and affordable housing must also be addressed during the progress of the plan.

“The council must stay engaged in future developments to ensure racial equity and transparency,” Hewitt said during public comment. “Accomplishment should not deter us in any way of us pursuing affordable housing as a permanent solution.”