Would Sacramento’s homeless ballot measure make a difference? Here’s how it works

·3 min read
Renée C. Byer/rbyer@sacbee.com

It’s official: City of Sacramento voters will see a homeless measure on their ballot Nov. 8.

In general, the measure would both empower officials to remove certain encampments and also require local government to offer more shelter.

It won’t look exactly like the measure the City Council in April voted to place on the ballot. Council members this week changed the ballot language to link the measure’s implementation to cooperation with Sacramento County in providing social services to the homeless.

Business groups had been gathering signatures to put the measure before voters as an initiative. They stopped their campaign when the council backed their concept. Some of them were frustrated this week when the council altered the ballot measure in a way that could delay its enforcement.

What Sacramento’s homeless measure would do

Require the city to identify up to about 600 more homeless shelter beds or sanctioned camping spaces

Currently, the city has about 1,100 shelter beds and Safe Ground spaces, operated through a program that costs $33 to $40 million a year. The county separately funds roughly 1,400 indoor shelter beds. All beds are full on any given night.

About 9,300 homeless individuals live in Sacramento County on any given night, according to a recent count, which is nearly double the amount from January 2019. Throughout the course of the year up to 20,000 people will experience homelessness, the report found.

Enable the city to clear more homeless individuals from public property

The measure would create a new definition for “encampment” in city code — four or more unrelated people camping within 50 feet of each other on public property without permitted power, running water and bathrooms.

In those situations, if the measure is in effect, police could tell people to move, even without offering a shelter bed, according to the language.

If the measure was in effect, the city would not clear people in those situations without first offering them shelter, City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said during an April council meeting.

A 2018 federal court decision known as Martin vs. Boise forbids the city from criminalizing homeless individuals who are living on public property without offering them a shelter bed, unless they are on levees or blocking streets, according to a city webpage.

Classifies storing hazardous waste, including garbage, debris and used needles, on public or private property as a misdemeanor, which the city could charge with civil or criminal penalties.

Prohibits private property owners from allowing homeless people to sleep on the property for more than one night.

How did homeless measure change?

Under the new amendment, if voters approve the measure, it will only go into effect if the county agrees to a legally-binding pact that “memorializes the respective roles of the city and county to improve the homelessness crisis,” a city staff report said.

The council wants the agreement to detail the county’s responsibilities to provide mental health and substance use services to homeless individuals who need them, the staff report said. It would also include the county’s responsibilities to refer individuals to housing, medical, employment, social services, drug rehabilitation, child welfare and domestic violence services.

The details of the agreement would need to be approved by the council and Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, and could also add a required number of new beds.

It would also need to include financial obligations on both sides, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.

The council also changed the measure Tuesday to lower the number of new shelter beds it would require. The measure would now require the city to identify up to 600 new shelter beds by spring. It could be fewer, depending on the city surplus.

The previous version of the ballot measure would have required the city to provide an additional 1,100 shelter spaces.

If the city and county signs the agreement, the measure would go into effect in March.