Sacramento Steps Forward initiative announced
Thursday morning, journalist Lisa Ling, members of the City Council and the homeless and formerly-homeless community joined Mayor Kevin Johnson in launching the "Sacramento Steps Forward" initiative. A crowd of several hundred waved blue initiative flags and cheered as Johnson announced his goal "to end homelessness and focus on permanent housing."
He applauded permanent housing shelters such as Mercy Housing, Turning Point and Martin Luther King Jr. Village, 3900 47th Avenue, where the launch was held.
Johnson said the goal of Sacramento Steps Forward is to provide 2,400 "decent and affordable" permanent housing units over the next three years. That would nearly quadruple the amount of permanent housing units created in the city over the last two years.
The mayor asked the Sacramento residents to advocate for the homeless, educate others about services needed to end homelessness, and to help find public, corporate and nonprofit funding.
"The homeless do not need a handout, they need a hand up," Johnson said. "They want to be empowered."
Johnson is chairman of a multiagency task force, part of the Policy Board to End Homelessness, that found funding for 269 winter shelter beds last month. This came despite an 84 percent cut in county funding for homelessness and the elimination of funding for winter shelters in September.
Tim Brown, director of the Sacramento Ending Chronic Homelessness Initiative, said last week that federal stimulus money will house 150 people who are now in shelters, freeing up 150 shelter beds over the next few months.
With an expected 419 beds, the city and county intend to provide 151 more beds this year than last year’s 268 beds. According to the 2009 Homeless Count Summary Report, there are about 2,800 homeless people in Sacramento, including 711 in emergency shelters, 895 in transitional housing and 1,194 who have no shelter.
After Johnson thanked Brown, Sister Libby Fernandez and Joan Burke, both of of Loaves and Fishes, he introduced Sacramento-native Ling, the host of National Geographic Explorer. Earlier this year, as a special correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show, she reported on Sacramento’s "tent city," which brought other media outlets to the site.
"Your mayor, so many members of the homeless advocacy community, members of the city and county rose to the occasion and decided to tackle (homelessness) head on," Ling said. "I’m so proud of the way so many members of this community have come together (and) if Sacramento is successful (housing the homeless), it could be a model for the rest of the country."
County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, St. John’s Shelter director, Michelle Steeb, and City Council member Rob Fong also spoke. Fong explained the Faith and Families initiative that he helped create.
"We’re asking the faith communities to see if they would be willing through their congregation to make a commitment for one year to help house a homeless family," he said. "In the last year we’ve housed 10 homeless families (and) we’re hoping to get a dozen more housed before the holidays."
Three formerly homeless people spoke about their experiences. They credited programs such as Serna Village, St. John’s Shelter and Lutheran Social Services with changing their lives and giving them hope.
"It was absolutely marvelous," Fernandez of Loaves and Fishes said about the city’s effort. "In one year, this mayor has talked more about the issue of homelessness than any mayor ever has. He spends time with the homeless, policymakers and advocates."
Although she applauded the push for transitional and permanent housing, she noted the nine-month waiting period to get into Quinn Cottages, a transitional housing shelter. This means that homeless need somewhere to go in the meantime, Fernandez said.
"It takes too long for the next step. (Creating a) ‘safe ground’ is just an added piece to get to the final goal, which is permanent housing."