By Joshua Wood and Amanda Blackwood | Special to The OBSERVER
OPINION – We see it every day. Homeless people living on the street in squalid conditions, suffering and without hope. We see untreated mental illness manifesting in erratic behaviors. We see the proliferation of hard drugs on our streets. We see the fires on the American River Parkway and the tons of human waste left in historically forgotten corners of our community. And while the impacts of this human crisis are felt by everyone, women and communities of color are consistently negatively affected at a much higher level than white neighborhoods, furthering the wealth gap and imposing additional trauma on those who are already struggling to be heard.
The estimated number of homeless individuals in Sacramento County has grown from roughly 5,500 people in 2019 to more than 9,200 people in 2022. That is a 67% increase over the past three years, with Sacramento now having a larger homeless population than San Francisco.
This explosion in population combined with the rising concerns over public safety have raised real questions about the future of our region, if not addressed head on with courage, vision, and urgency.
The practical reality of that scale of population growth is that despite the best efforts of the current leadership the status quo simply isn’t working. People are still dying – 153 last year. Public Safety is critically damaged. And our economy is slipping away at the time that we desperately need to support local jobs and investment if we are ever to survive the rising costs of living in California.
And while the economic impacts of this crisis are real, it is also deeply personal. As proponents of the most innovative and results-based approach to homeless policy in the United States we know the human story behind this complex challenge. For one of us, our birth mother was homeless for a great portion of her life on the streets of San Francisco struggling with mental health and addiction issues. For the other, our mother’s childhood was often spent sleeping in cars or scrapping together cash for a motel room to stay out of the snow in rural Iowa.
This is why we have worked hand in hand with the top minds in the State of California to craft a meaningful solution that balances empathy and accountability, shelter and enforcement, and mental health support while protecting our laws and values. Although no policy is perfect, we stay firmly grounded in the belief that anything to maintain the status quo of unfettered human suffering is a failure of leadership that can not be accepted. Real problems deserve real solutions and that is exactly what we will do.
And so can you. The Emergency Shelter and Enforcement Act of 2022, which is now being presented to voters as Measure O and will be on the November 2022 ballot, is a transformative effort that would establish temporary shelter and secure camping locations while giving the City of Sacramento the tools they need to enforce the law and protect public safety. Passing Measure O will clean up our streets and make our parkways safer, ensuring that disadvantaged neighborhoods no longer bear the brunt of the homelessness crisis while we all actively work together to seek longer term supportive housing options.
By establishing a historic and unprecedented new requirement for the city to create emergency shelter sites for the homeless population, Measure O fully complies with federal law and would allow the city to once again enforce anti-camping rules to remove encampments from our streets, underpasses, bridges, parks, and open spaces.
This is a direct solution to the most serious issue causing a degradation of the quality of life in our disadvantaged neighborhoods. That is why leaders representing the diverse communities in Sacramento have joined our effort and are supporting Measure O. Together, we can unite our community around these common-sense solutions that do not leave any Sacramentan behind.
Over the past year, the coalition behind Measure O was created to represent Sacramento’s rich diversity in identifying solutions to homelessness and ensure that all perspectives were welcomed. We are now a county-wide coalition of businesses, labor, non-profit organizations, neighborhood associations, parents, churches and community activists, all focused on moving away from the pace of the past and embracing the urgency that this crisis requires.
In spite of the diversity of our coalition, the extensive outreach and dialog with community, and the personal experiences with homelessness many of our coalition leaders have had the opposition attempt to paint us as “soulless business ghouls”, “persecutors of the poor”, “racists”, and “sexists.” These are labels that epitomize gaslighting and racelighting—and fail to recognize that perpetuating this narrative actively detracts from the collective power a community has when you focus on what brings you together and not what divides.
As an African American man and CEO of Region Business and the first female CEO in the 127 year history of the Metro Chamber, we understand deeply how critically important diverse and representative voices at the table are. For the first time in the last twenty years, our focused and dogged leadership on this issue has disrupted the institutional barriers that often silence our voices. With the adoption of the 4x2x2 City/County meeting structure, we now have the real opportunity to bring the City and County together to finalize a historic partnership agreement and move forward together toward a shared solution now and well into the future.
And it can not be done alone. We want to take this opportunity to thank four members of the Sacramento City Council and Sacramento County Board of Supervisors who have been strong advocates in this policy area; Mayor Pro Tem Eric Guerra as well as Councilmembers Sean Loloee, Jeff Harris, Jay Schenirer. Supervisors Patrick Kennedy and Rich Desmond. Also much credit is due to Mayor Darrel Steinberg for his on-going willingness to focus, engage and lead on this important issue.
There is still much work to do but change doesn’t always come at once. Passing Measure O in November is the first step we as residents can take, in the process of cleaning up our neighborhoods and making our communities a safer place to live. Vote yes on Measure O.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Joshua Wood is the CEO of Sacramento Region Business Association. Amanda Blackwood is the President and CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber. They are Co-Chairs of Yes on O, Sacramentans for Safe and Clean Streets and Parks.