By County Supervisor Sue Frost
Recently I issued a survey to our community to help me evaluate and improve our services based on what you want to see. The survey is still open, and I invite you to participate by visiting my website at www.bos.saccounty.net/District4 – there is a link near the top that says “Complete a community survey.” However, while the survey is still open, with over 1,500 responses we can begin to make some meaningful conclusions based on the data.
For example, in a ranking of how residents feel budget priorities should be ordered, homelessness ranks 3rd in the community, with only law enforcement and transportation/roads being ranked higher. Clearly this issue is of high importance in our community.
On January 31st, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and the Sacramento City Council had a joint meeting that drew an overflow crowd of about 400 to have a discussion about homelessness. The main topic of discussion was in regards to federal housing vouchers. There are currently around 70,000 people in Sacramento County waiting to receive federal housing vouchers, with only around 900 open slots each year. The people waiting on this list are either veterans, disabled, or pay over 50% of their income on rent/utilities - and have been waiting for years. Sacramento County is being asked to divert around 800 of these 900 slots to homeless people, letting them “jump the line” on the list.
I am not in favor of this approach for two reasons.
First, I do not think it is fair to the people currently waiting on the list. These people are often one step away from being homeless themselves - when they receive these vouches, it helps ensure that their housing situation is more stabilized. This system would rob Peter to pay Paul, and push more people to homelessness.
Second, I do not think doing this will actually help solve the problem. We are kidding ourselves if we think that simply giving a homeless person access to housing is going to solve their problems. They need comprehensive services that any one solution fails to address, including better access to physical and mental health services. Further, voucher recipients must still convince landlords to rent to them. Unless they are receiving wide-ranging services, many landlords will simply refuse to rent to homeless people. If vouchers are not being utilized, it increases the risk of our voucher program receiving less funds from the federal government.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has directed staff to report back in late March with a comprehensive plan to tackle the issue of homelessness. I voted in favor of this this approach, as I think a “quick fix” potentially creates more problems – and taking time to find solutions that look at the root cause of this issue is the right path for us to take. I have also requested that staff initiate conversations with the other cities and communities of Sacramento County. As the community survey has clearly shown, homelessness is not an issue isolated to Sacramento City, and everyone impacted deserves a seat at the table.
Thank you for reading - and as always, if you want to contact me, call me at 916-874-5491 or e-mail me at SupervisorFrost@saccounty.net.
Sue Frost represents the 4th District, which includes all or part of the communities of Citrus Heights, Folsom, Orangevale, Antelope, Rio Linda, Elverta, Gold River, Rancho Murieta, North Highlands, Carmichael, Foothill Farms, and Fair Oaks.