Update: April 6, 9:15 p.m.
The Sacramento City Council voted Wednesday night to place the so-called “Emergency Shelter and Enforcement Act of 2022” on the November ballot, prompting the proponent of the more aggressive ballot initiative to say he would withdraw his measure.
The ordinance would outlaw homeless encampments once the city creates enough shelter spaces or Safe Ground camping sites.
The ordinance was pushed through after the city council agreed to add language specifying that new shelter and safe ground spaces must be added to all council districts, replacing more general language that said they should be added citywide. It also added language encouraging Sacramento County “to adopt a comparable measure."
County officials have expressed an interest in placing an ordinance on a countywide ballot, but have yet to do so.
The Sacramento City Council on Wednesday will consider placing an ordinance on the November ballot that could outlaw homeless encampments on public property and require the city to approve thousands of homeless shelter spaces.
The proposed ordinance is called the Emergency Shelter and Enforcement Act of 2022. It would make public camping illegal if a person rejects the offer of an available emergency shelter space. Sacramento’s roughly 1,100 shelter spaces are typically full and far short of what’s needed for the city’s homeless residents.
The ordinance has the backing of Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who called it an “imperfect” compromise that could lead the proponents of a more aggressive proposed ballot measure to withdraw their initiative.
“This is an open door for creating a right to shelter, a right to housing, a right to mental health care,” Steinberg told CapRadio on Tuesday.
The city published details about the ordinance late Tuesday afternoon, only 24 hours before the council is scheduled to vote on it. City spokesperson Tim Swanson said in an email that it was published that abruptly so that the city can “urgently” address homelessness.
“The City is looking to have the City Council publicly discuss the information agendized for this special meeting as soon as possible,” Swanson wrote. “The Council then can collectively decide how it would like to move forward with the proposed ordinance, and if it should be placed on the November ballot.”
The measure would make it a misdemeanor if someone refuses to leave public property after they’ve been offered available shelter.
Steinberg said in February he was worried about criminalizing homelessness, but told CapRadio after the proposed measure was published that he’s “comfortable with the overall package.”
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, opposes the ordinance because it proposes to “manage” the homelessness crisis rather than offering ways to solve it — such as creating more affordable housing.
“It continues the failed public policy of criminalizing people experiencing homelessness, which makes it difficult for people experiencing homelessness to find housing and employment,” Erlenbusch said.
Daniel Conway, former Mayor Kevin Johnson’s then-chief of staff, filed paperwork in February for the more aggressive and similarly named Emergency Temporary Shelter and Enforcement Act of 2022. He said his coalition will withdraw its measure if the council places the compromise ordinance on the ballot.
“Our goal has always been to have something that works,” said Conway, a policy advisor for the nonprofit LA Alliance for Human Rights.
The measure Conway announced in February would require the city to authorize emergency shelter space for 75% of the unsheltered people in the city. The spaces would be based on the most recent Point-In-Time homeless count and would have to be available within 60 days of the measure passing.
The proposal that will be considered by the Council on Wednesday would require a more gradual ramp up, mandating spaces for only 60% of Sacramento’s unsheltered residents. But the city would only have to approve spaces for 20% of that lower threshold in the first 90 days after voters approve the measure.
In either case, the proposals would require Sacramento to greatly increase its shelter capacity.
The last point-in-time survey found approximately 5,500 homeless people in Sacramento County in 2019. Homeless advocates and government officials expect the new survey — conducted in late February and expected to publish this spring — will find significantly more unhoused people due to the area’s continued high housing costs and economic effects of the pandemic.
A city staff report said Conway’s measure would financially cripple the city, costing an additional $192 million in annual spending on shelter spaces beyond the $33 million the city spends now.
“Such a significant redirection of funding would drastically reduce core programs and service levels,” the report said. “It is simply not possible to maintain current programs and services while also meeting the demands of the proposed initiative.”
The council is scheduled to discuss the ordinance at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. More information about the proposal and ways the public can comment on it are available on the city’s website.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.