By Casey Murray | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Sacramento’s city and county governments on Tuesday unanimously approved terms of a new “legally binding” partnership to address homelessness.
The Homeless Services Partnership Agreement is a five-year agreement that seeks to combine the two governments’ resources following criticism that their separate responses to the crisis have been inadequate.
Both county and city officials have lauded the deal as a landmark agreement reached through extensive collaboration.
“This comprehensive partnership agreement represents a fundamental breakthrough on our city’s homeless problem,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said in a release. “For the first time, the city and county together will fund consistent and intensive outreach and engagement in the largest tent encampments.”
The agreement will require the city and county to staff about 50 mental health and engagement workers at encampments to do outreach and perform assessments to move people into services. It requires that current facilities for sobering and crisis intervention be maintained, and a new behavioral health center be opened. The county also will open 600 new shelter beds over the course of the agreement.
Part of the push, at least for the city council, comes from the passage of Measure O, a controversial November ballot measure that required the city to reach a deal with the county before its other provisions could take effect.
Joshua Wood, CEO of the Sacramento Region Business Association, which helped create Measure O, said he’s proud of the measure and the resulting partnership.
“I think between Measure O and the [partnership agreement], you essentially have the most comprehensive homelessness reform that we have anywhere in the state,” he said.
But the partnership has continued to meet resistance because of enforcement measures that take effect alongside the partnership agreement. Measure O stipulates that once the partnership is in place, unhoused residents can be forced to move off public property if a shelter bed is available and they decline it. If they refuse to move, they can face a misdemeanor arrest.
Some have expressed concern that the enforcement measure will be the only part of Measure O that’s successfully implemented.
Kevin Carter is an advocate with the Poor People’s Campaign, a national group that advocates for people at the bottom of the economic spectrum, based in Sacramento. He was against Measure O and continued to express skepticism over the partnership agreement.
“The enforcement will come faster than a six-month plan,” he said, referencing the six-month progress updates required of the city and county as part of the agreement. “It’s always six months, and then it’s another six months … and in that six months, nothing gets done.”
In its meeting Tuesday, the county responded to that criticism by pointing out it had no ownership of Measure O. Since the measure is city legislation, county commissioners weren’t part of its development and aren’t obligated to work with the city because of it. They said a partnership has been in the works for years, long before Measure O.
On the city’s side, even council members who were against Measure O voted for the partnership agreement.
Now that the deal has passed, focus shifts to the future. Many want to make sure the county and city follow through.
“I don’t want anyone that voted for this ordinance to be comfortable,” Carter said. “You need to put pressure on the city and the county, stay focused on this, to make sure that they’re held accountable.”
Wood expressed a similar sentiment.
“We’re going to be putting pressure on them and holding them accountable to do [the agreement],” he said.
There will be joint updates every six months on the progress of items agreed upon in the partnership at the meetings of both the Sacramento City Council and Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, according to the agreement.
The mayor addressed the fact that all eyes now are on them.
“I want to acknowledge that now we have to hold each other accountable. And certainly the community’s gonna hold us accountable,” Steinberg said in the council meeting. “But this is a great step.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Casey Murray is a Report For America Corp Member and a Data Reporter for The Sacramento OBSERVER.