Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mayor hopeful, committed to meeting needs of city's homeless population


This morning, the Mayor held a press conference to update the public on the status of pressing homelessness issues and to reiterate his commitment to make Sacramento "a city that works for everyone," including the least fortunate, us homeless. The briefing also served to show that the mayor and parties involved in the Safe Ground movement are reconciled and expect to be working together to meet the shelter and sleeping needs of homeless Sacramentans in the face of the continuing difficult economic conditions and a coming winter that may be severe.

Mayor Kevin Johnson, now in office for ten months, said that homeless people must be treated with respect and their dignity recognized and that the city must pursue a goal of ending homelessness, altogether, over time. Aside the mayor as he stood at a podium in a small room in the new building at the City Hall complex were about eight leaders involved in efforts to aid the homeless, including Sister Libby and Joan Burke of Loaves & Fishes; Gregory Bunker of Francis House; and Thomas "Hawk" Jackson Ashmore**, an able and articulate member of the homeless community.

A legal encampment for the homeless

The mayor first spoke about Stepping Stone, envisioned as a legal "transitional-housing encampment which facilitates outreach and empowers individuals to [achieve] self-sufficiency." A fifteen-person ad hoc committee, in conjunction with a staff aid, has the responsibly of finding the best components of a camp that can succeed both for homeless people and the metropolis.

 There are many "key issues" the mayor's advisers must deal with in putting together a successful proposal (according to a handout that was provided -- with "funding" added, based on the mayor's reference to it during the briefing)  With each issue, a specturm of possiblities was noted, which I've reproduced, below:

  • Size
    Small (50-100)   | Medium (100-200)  | Large (200-400)
  • Location
    Next to Services | Close to Services | Removed from Services
  • Selection Criteria
    No Restrictions  | Self-Selection    | Targeted Community
  • Governance
    Self Governance  | Joint Governance  | External Governance
  • Security
    No Security      | Community Security| Private Security 
  • Staffing/Services
    Minimal Services | Hub and Spoke     | Extensive Support
  • Funding
    Gov'ment Funding | Mixed Funding     | Grants and Donations 
The Mayor hopes to have a proposal come together soon that will "launch in October" with the manifestation of the camp coming in three to six months. A site near Bannon Street, three acres behind the VOA property there, is known to be a prime plot of ground under consideration for the camp, but the Mayor said other sites will be sought and fully evaluated in the process of creating his proposal.

The Mayor thanked the C Street encampment members for volunteering to abandon their campsite, given the understanding that he and his office, homeless-agency leaders and other city and county leaders would endeavor, tirelessly, to "make something happen."

Sister Libby spoke at the podium to say that she was "very excited" about the Mayor's commitment to get something achieved. And, she said, her goal was that it be done without city money. "Funding is a big problem," she said, but it is her hope that the city and county not need to weigh in with financial help.

"Hawk" Ashmore** came to the podium and said that "we [the homeless] have a right to live." He was hopeful that peace officers would be instructed to cease arresting homeless folk for just living. "It costs $1500 to $2000 just to be put in jail," he said. Safe Ground is not a [end-all] solution, he said, it's a effort to make things better.

Gregory Bunker praised the Mayor. "It's the first time a mayor has stepped forward to this degree," he said. And he warned, because of the economy, "a burgeoning population of homeless on the streets" is possible.

Shelter this winter

Mayor Johnson had less optimism relating to the coming crisis of additional, cold-weather shelter for homeless people. He said there continues to be a problem finding funding to meet the need.

Cal Expo; the detox center on/near Richards Blvd; church properties; and facilities at Mather are candidate sites for shelter beginning sometime in November. Separate from the "encampment" task force, but with some overlap of members, is an eight-person ad hoc committee, the Winter Shelter Task Force, working on the problem for the mayor in conjunction with a member, or members, of the mayor's staff. County, city, and private support is being sought for funding.

End Notes

In questioning from the press afterward, the Mayor said that he would love for our city to be a leader in the quest for ending homelessness, but that will not forestall the continuing need for transitional means and emergency shelters.

Stepping Stone he said would serve as a transitional means to put people in permanent housing.

He said it was a "big political challenge."

After addressing homeless issues, the mayor spoke about matters relating to basketball in the city.  An agency, working for the NCAA, had determined that Arco Arena is not suitable for university-level basketball, precluding Sacramento from being a site for elimination-tournement play.  The arena was found to be too old and shabby.

The mayor is determined to be more aggressive and to move the timeline up in getting a new, state-of-the-art arena for basketball in Sacramento to host events and to keep professional basketball [the Kings!] a part of the community.

Kevin Johnson was highly impressive at the podium this morning.  I am convinced he is fully, genuinely the compassionate fellow he seems in print and on TV.  He is also a sterling speaker, both with prepared statements and in responding to reporters' questions.  A stong mayor?  After seeing, hearing him today, I'd easily, happily vote for giving him enhanced powers to fix the problems our city has.

--
* Quoting from a handout from the "Office of the Mayor," provided before the press briefing.
** Corrections made to THIS report, using information from the Sacramento Press article, "Mayor Keven Johnson addresses homelessness," written by Jonathan Mendick.  I first wrote that Ashmore's name was Thomas "Hawk" Jackson; it is, in fact, Thomas "Hawk" Jackson Ashmore.

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