California gave Sacramento $25M for homeless at American River Parkway. Why hasn’t it spent it?

Sacramento County for six months has been sitting on a $25 million check from the state of California to shelter unhoused people living on the American River Parkway.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, who co-sponsored the bill to get the county the money, sent a letter to Board of Supervisors Chairman Rich Desmond July 5 to nudge them to spend it.

“We fought diligently for these funds in the state budget, and I hope to see them utilized or a new plan for how they’ll be spent in the near future,” McCarty wrote in the letter. “I would appreciate any information you could share regarding this project.”

The funds were supposed to cover the start up costs to shelter roughly a whopping 620 people per year in tiny homes, the letter states.

“This, combined with designated camping areas, would allow the county to serve more individuals and transform the county’s ability to get people connected to shelter and services while restoring and protecting the parkway,” the letter states.

The county received the $25 million in April. It’s been working since then to find a site, Desmond said Tuesday.

“We are working hard to find a site that is close to the parkway but doesn’t overly concentrate homeless shelter and housing in a single neighborhood,” Desmond said in a message to The Sacramento Bee. “In the meantime, we continue expanding our shelter and (affordable) housing as well as residential and outpatient resources for unsheltered with behavioral health needs. I am confident we will find a location that will provide a safe and supportive alternative for people camping on the Parkway.”

Desmond said he hopes the county can identify a site by the end of the year.

“I continue to push staff to do so,” he said.

Search for Safe Ground land

The county found a piece of land that was available and spent months negotiating to buy it to build and operate a Safe Ground. But earlier this month the owner of the land entered into a contract to sell it to another bidder, county spokeswoman Janna Haynes said. The county declined to disclose the address. The county next plans to publish a Request for Qualifications, asking for private entities who want to help the county find sites.

Appropriate sites would be near the Parkway, including downtown, because people are more likely to accept shelter in places near where they are camping, Haynes said. That’s a strategy McCarty agrees with, he said.

For that reason he understands the delay.

“Yes it’s taking too long, but it always takes too long,” said McCarty, a former councilman who’s running for mayor of Sacramento next year. “I think policy makers at all levels want swifter action. This is one I want to get right. I’d rather find an appropriate location. Pointing fingers at local governments isn’t the answer. We are all in this together and need to work cooperatively ... this is not easy. It took a long time to get to this problem and it’s gonna take a lot of work to get out of it.”

Ultimately wherever the county finds to open a shelter will require Board of Supervisors approval, Haynes said.

Although the money is unspent the county has 10 outreach navigators who work daily to try to get people into services, and when available, into shelter, Haynes said. The county recently opened 100 tiny homes in south Sacramento, and is opening another 75 there later this year. It’s also working to open a large shelter and parking lot for 250 people in North Highlands.

In addition, Sacramento is set to get 350 tiny homes from the state this fall, announced in March at Cal Expo fairgrounds with much fanfare, but it has not yet received them.

Even after those efforts, there will still be thousands unhoused in Sacramento. There are an estimated 9,300 homeless people living in the county, including hundreds along the parkway. The city and county have about 2,300 shelter beds.