FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — SEPT 18, 2013 –
By Steve Marschke
Tonight (Sept. 18), the West Sacramento City Council will discuss “next steps” for the prevention and treatment of homelessness in this town.
Using state grant funds, city officials (including City Councilman Mark Johannessen) have counted the local homeless, tried to analyze the reasons for their plight, interviewed “stakeholders” such as neighbors and businesspeople, and tried to point a way forward in dealing with the problem. This two-year effort has produced an informational report for tonight’s city council meeting. They hope to pick up some reactions and return with more details on an “action plan” next month.
In a coordinated “snapshot” census across Yolo County, the counters found 165 homeless people living in West Sacramento, compared to 186 in Woodland, 114 in Davis and nine in rural areas, reports the city’s staff report prepared for the council meeting.
West Sacramento is fairly unique compared to some places – like Sacramento – in that a lot of homeless people live near residential neighborhoods instead of downtown areas, the report added.
No “unaccompanied children” were counted among Yolo County’s homeless in the January census.
“West Sacramento traditionally has by far the highest number of ‘unsheltered’ homeless in Yolo County,” the report stated. “These are people primarily living in camps or on the street. . . While emergency shelter is available in Woodland and Davis, there is no emergency shelter available in West Sacramento.”
And West Sacramento riverfronts offer a camping spot not too far from social services provided to homeless people from across the river in Sacramento.
“(Also), persons camping along the river in West Sacramento report that it is desirable because they can fish for food and the wooded areas are sufficiently secluded that they feel private and secure. Some of the campers have lived there for years.”
126 of the 165 West Sacramento homeless reported they were “unsheltered” and living in tents, vehicles, garages or the like.
Over half of the West Sacramento homeless were also reported to be adult men, with the remainder made up of both women and children. Many “chronically” homeless people are mentally ill.
The cost of not treating these people for homeless and some of the conditions that can lead to – illness and injury – can be expensive in terms of “repeated costly ambulance calls and emergency room visits,” argues the city report.
In one famous case, Reno police tracked the case of “Million Dollar Murray,” the report adds. Murray was a homeless man who died in 2005. Whenever he was in a rehab program, “he was able to get jobs and do quite well.” When not, he didn’t.
“(Police) were able to document $100,000 in medical costs over a six month period and nearly $1 million in police, jail, fire department, emergency medical, hospital costs and substance abuse treatment over a ten-year period.”
The staff report suggests that in addressing the homeless problem, such people must still be held accountable for their legal actions and impacts on the rest of the population.
West Sacramento’s police had two officers working full time on homelessness, spending staff time taking apart homeless camps, often along the riverfront. In addition:
“Nearly hourly, regular patrol officers are dispatched to related issues, such as illegal camping, public intoxication, fights, public nuisance and other vagrancy calls for service. Confiscated property from camp clean-ups is stored in commercial containers at the police department, separate from other property “for health reasons.”
Firefighters also answer hundreds of medical aid calls for homeless people each year. And each time a shopping cart is requisitioned for someone’s personal use, that costs a store $150 to $450.
Aggressive panhandling is also a problem. Although asking for money is not itself illegal, “aggressive” panhandling isn’t protected by the First Amendment.
The report calls for West Sacramento to partner with other agencies and with private parties, and to look for grant funds to help attack its homelessness problem.
A future plan might include having programs in place to help “at risk” people – such as those who just lost a job or suffered a health problem – from becoming homeless. It might include cracking down on aggressive panhandling, and fighting trespassing, littering and dumpster-diving.
The plan might also include finding more ways to offer food, water, shelter, mental health care, substance abuse care and medical care.
Tonight’s (Sept. 18) council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at city hall, 1110 West Capitol Avenue.
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Copyright News-Ledger 2013