Antonio R Harvey | Observer Staff Writer

When Darrell Steinberg ran for Sacramento mayor almost five years ago, he declared that he wanted to tackle the homelessness issue head-on and adamantly stated that camping outdoors would be eliminated.

Steinberg has always wanted temporary and permanent facilities for the unhoused and the structure must have a roof. On Aug. 10, he may get closer to achieving that goal but he will need the City Council to support his dream.

On Aug. 4 Steinberg released the blueprint of the city’s “Master Siting Plan to Address Homelessness,” a proposal that includes building communities for the ever-growing unhoused population. 

“We’re trying to show the community (and) improve this community that we can lead with big hearts, help thousands of people, and at the same time in a way that’s respectful,” Steinberg said at a news conference at City Hall. “This is not either/or. It’s this/or that and at the same time we can have a cleaner and safer city.”

The Master Siting Plan identifies strategies and sites to get more than 9,000 people off the streets annually when implemented, Steinberg said. The properties are designated as priority sites for permanent supportive housing, group shelters, tiny home communities, and organized campgrounds. 

Each temporary housing option will offer services designed to help people find permanent housing and exit homelessness. In addition to specific sites, the plan identifies “programmatic solutions,” that include motel conversions, increased housing voucher usage, scattered-site housing, and a larger campus whose location will be determined later in 2021.

Steinberg said the plan was not thought of and created overnight. Many local non-profit groups, neighborhood associations, businesses, and individuals united to develop a strategy that would provide dignity for the unhoused and comfortability for neighborhoods that could be affected by the pending new communities.

“This master plan is the product of dozens of community meetings,” Steinberg said. “Where do these sites come from? Does the community know about this? Better believe they know about it because they’ve been involved. Thousands of people have attended (the meetings).”

Steinberg also said that the funding source for the plan would be derived from the state and federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act. He quoted a $100 million infusion to fund the plan.

The resolution going to the City Council with the master plan directs the City, led by City Manager Howard Chan, to construct the housing options using design and architectural recommendations from the Urban Land Institute. 

The plan also describes the need to establish a good neighbor policy or set of community agreements to ensure the safety of residents, neighbors, and providers. These agreements, Steinberg’s office has communicated publicly, will contain specific standards for operations, security, cleanliness, and community involvement. 

The plan’s appendix includes a template for future use and three existing good neighbor policy documents. In addition, Steinberg said that grassroot and social organizations, he calls “advocates,” that have put in a lot of effort in providing essential needs for the unhoused will be needed more than ever to make the plan work.

The City of Refugee, Sacramento Homeless Union – Chapter of National Union of the Homeless, Earth Mama Healing, the Sacramento Chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign, Mutual Assistance Network of Del Paso Heights, Rose Family Center in Meadowview, and a host of groups that supply needs for unhoused family individuals are expected to partner with the city to suppress a social issue that affects all communities.

But there is some resistance to parts of the plan.

Founded by Dr. Martin Luther Kings Jr. in November 1967, the Poor People’s Campaign was created to demand jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage, and education for poor adults and children to improve their self-image and self-esteem.

Kevin Carter — a member of the  Sacramento Chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign and a constant watchdog of city, county, and state’s approaches to helping the homeless — said the mayor’s siting plan has some concerns.

From his perspective, Carter said the plan should not be an authoritative practice of “forcing people into housing” if it’s not their choice. Carter and members of the Poor People’s Campaign have been in contact with Steinberg’s office to have conversations about the plan.

“What if they turned down the housing … reject it? Then what is the next element because  what (Steinberg) is talking about has a zero-policy,” Carter said of the plan. “In fact, he did say it wasn’t going to be like that. But we ask that there could be more clarity on that and other issues we listed and responses to (actions) we demanded.”

During the news conference at City Hall, Steinberg acknowledged that some of the unhoused advocates are his biggest critics. He also stated that the plan is not bulletproof and could accordingly need adjustments. 

Carter agreed with the mayor and said that the mayor has to be consistent in implementing the plan and working out the kinks when issues occur.

“There will be trials and errors. We understand that,” Carter told The OBSERVER. “But here’s the thing about Mayor Steinberg, every six months he reveals something that he wants to do. When the six months is over … he has another plan and didn’t complete what he was going to do with the first project. It makes this plan (siting project) here suspect.”

In his defense, Steinberg has asked all city council districts to identify locations to service homeless individuals and families. Shelters have been placed in District 5 and District 8 within the last year. The City Council and the mayor have also implemented programs to house a portion of the unhoused through the state’s Project Room Key program as well.

“It’s still not enough,” Carter said of the city’s efforts. “We need tiny housing permanently and we need to feed and provide jobs … We have a plan to help them. We have a list of demands. We just can’t keep going in circles. It is so much more than just housing people.”

The California Homeless Union and its local affiliate, the Sacramento  Homeless Union, “strongly opposes” Mayor Steinberg’s plan, Sacramento Homeless Union President Crystal Sanchez and Anthony Prince, legal counsel for California Homeless Union, said in a written statement.

“The ‘plan’ is a deceptive and dangerous con job designed to circumvent the 9th Circuit Court of  Appeals ruling in Martin v. Boise, enrich wealthy contractors, strengthen the hand of the ‘homeless industrial complex’ in controlling the unhoused and set the stage for Steinberg’s attempt to force the homeless to surrender their state and federal constitutional rights through an  ‘obligation to accept shelter’ ordinance which he admitted is now being drafted by the City Attorney,” Sanchez and Prince stated.

While Mayor Darrell Steinberg conceived of the plan, Councilmembers were tasked with identifying sites in their individual districts and vetting them with the community in a series of meetings, presentations, and workshops. 

The plan includes the intent to create a larger “campus” model that could serve 350 people with a site in the city limits to be identified later in 2021 following approvals by city partners.

“I am so proud of the City Council for their commitment of time and resources since January to evaluate every possible site for safe parking, Safe Ground, temporary shelter and transitional housing,” Steinberg said. “Members pored over maps, drove their districts, toured sites, and met with property owners and agencies in control of the sites. Their exhaustive outreach to the community was unprecedented, even during a pandemic, and created a better plan with a realistic chance for progress.”