Posted by: macjohns | October 27, 2010

Mayor Kevin Johnson Commits to Comprehensive Strategy to End Homelessness in Sacramento by November, 2011


Nearly two years after Lisa Ling from the Oprah Winfrey Show interviewed residents at Sacramento’s “Tent City”, citizens, activists, homeless advocates, and elected officials turned out for the Sacramento Community Homeless Forum on October 12th, 2010.  The four hour forum featured presentations from City Council Member, Rob Fong; Mayor Kevin Johnson;  UC Davis Community Development Professor, Jason MacCannell; formerly homeless individuals and nonprofit directors who work around issues of homelessness.

One of the most well-represented groups was SafeGround, a collaborative organization that was formed partly in response to the Oprah Winfrey Show’s portrayal of the conditions inside the Tent City. Their goal is to establish a simple and legal place for homeless people to stay and sleep.  Sacramento’s “camping ordinance” has made their work quite difficult as the police have the right to evacuate residents from these “illegal” communities. The group routinely scouts out safe locations and sets up grounds where homeless individuals can set up tents if they agree to keep: drugs, alcohol, violence, and harassment out of the camps. So far they have been very successful in their work. They collaborate with older, more established homeless advocacy organizations in the area including: Loaves and Fishes, Francis House, and Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee.

Sandwiched between a panel presentation of formerly homeless individuals and a panel of organizational leaders was Mayor Johnson’s presentation in which he made a few key commitments to ending homelessness in Sacramento.

On what has already been done, the mayor stated that roughly 1,350 units of permanent affordable housing has already been created by leveraging Federal funds. In addition to this, the City of Sacramento is poised to have 200 winter shelter beds available for homeless individuals later this year. He also anticipates creating 3,000 permanent housing units in 3 years targeting low-income individuals.

The mayor’s goal to end homelessness is truly a regional goal. He mentioned the enormous waste of resources that fragmentation in homeless policies and programs has created. With this in mind, he created an advocacy board made up of diverse voices and organizations within the field. The board is called “Sacramento Steps Forward” and he anticipates this board will become a  nonprofit agency that can respond to homeless issues using funds from government, the  private sector, and various foundations. He also indicated that he is in support of SafeGround camps and will work with the organization to find appropriate sites for tent cities as transitional spaces to get people out of homelessness for good.  In addition to having a zero-tolerance for drugs, alcohol and violence, the mayor also wants to limit a person’s stay to 12-18 months and provide on-site case managers to help people transition out of homelessness.

All of this, of course, is supposed to take place by November, 2011. The reaction to this deadline was cheerful and the mayor announced that he would need the continued support of the organizations present, and also need citizens to hold him accountable to this promise. Judging by the energy in the room and the seemingly tireless work of the activists and organizations present, the mayor is going to get just what he asked for; and this could mean not only the closing of a chapter in Sacramento’s history but also an opening of a new chapter for cities that later follow in Sacramento’s footsteps.

To see a clip of the original footage from the Oprah Winfrey show, please visit the link below


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