Around the time I joined PRI’s team last September, we opened new offices in Midtown Sacramento.
I had never spent much time in Midtown before joining PRI. For those who don’t live here, Midtown is a hip part of town with a bustling bar and restaurant scene, expensive new apartments and condos, and a lot of creative energy.
As Sacramento grows, the Capital City is being compared more often to San Francisco. Unfortunately, one area where our city is sadly becoming too much like San Francisco is homelessness.
Just like in San Francisco, take a stroll down K Street and you’ll be confronted by homeless nearly every block. Some stand quietly as their facial expressions cry for help. Most aggressively panhandle innocent passerbys, while the worst threaten people’s safety.
A recent Sacramento Bee headline said it best – “In midtown, a daily fight for cleanliness and safety as homelessness surges.” According to the Bee, Sacramento’s homeless population is 30 percent worse today than it was in 2015. Entities like the Midtown Association are trying to combat the problem with the “Clean and Safe” program, cleaning the streets, removing graffiti, and fighting illegal dumping. But they can only do so much.
Sacramento’s homeless problem has grown rapidly since Darrell Steinberg became mayor. The city’s approach to homelessness under Mayor Steinberg amounts to fiddling while Rome burns.
As PRI’s Kerry Jackson wrote earlier this year, the centerpiece of Steinberg’s efforts are giving housing vouchers to the city’s homeless. But this is another example of government doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Steinberg would be wise to listen to Michele Steeb, the CEO of the Saint John’s Program for Real Change. She recently wrote in the Bee, that “(this) ‘Housing First’ (approach) that emphasizes that the primary need for the homeless is housing, and prohibits the requirement of sobriety, or any form of accountability . . . is not working for hundreds of thousands in California.”
I had the opportunity to visit Saint Johns this summer and was impressed by the work it does every day to transform the lives of homeless single moms – and at a fraction of the cost of government programs. The program includes mental health services, substance abuse counseling, life skills classes, employment training, and high school classes, and requires clients to continue earning their housing.
Policymakers should embrace programs like this – not one-size-fits-all programs that don’t solve the problem. PRI will soon release an issue brief on homelessness, profiling success stories like Saint John’s that show how the private sector can more effectively turn people’s lives around than government.
Summing up Sacramento’s homeless problem, Kerry Jackson wrote that “the homeless issue needs more creative, thoughtful public policy, not tired pretense.” He’s right. Only when it does so will we make any difference in cleaning up Sacramento’s streets, increasing public safety, and helping the chronically homeless turn their lives around.
Tim Anaya is communications director for the Pacific Research Institute.