The Elk Grove City Council on Nov. 14 adopted a resolution declaring a homeless shelter crisis in Elk Grove.
They believed that the city currently has insufficient shelter capacity to meet the needs of its homeless population, and the health and safety of unsheltered residents are at risk.
The council’s adoption of the resolution was necessary for the city to receive funding from the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP), which was established through Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of Senate Bill 850 last June.
Through the passing of that bill, a one-time, $500 million block grant was allocated to HEAP, which is designed to address homelessness by providing funding to cities and counties throughout California. With those funds, jurisdictions can quickly and efficiently increase emergency homeless services.
The funding is expected to be awarded no later than Dec. 31.
Had the city of Elk Grove not adopted the resolution prior to the awarding of those funds, it would have lost the opportunity to acquire such funding, since there is no late opt-in option for the program.
Although Elk Grove will not be a direct recipient of HEAP funding, the program will provide regional funds that will only be available to local governments that declared a shelter crisis.
The Continuum of Care entity, Sacramento Steps Forward, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness in the region, is aligned to receive $12.7 million of the program’s funding, while the city of Sacramento is expected to receive $5.6 million.
Among the acceptable uses through the program’s funding are small- and large-scale shelters, permanent, supportive housing, outreach and navigation services and criminal justice diversion.
Since the program is designed to increase emergency homeless services quickly, the expenditure deadline is June 2021.
Sarah Bontrager, the city’s housing and public services manager, told the council that with HEAP funding, the homeless shelter issue would receive a large financial boost.
“It would significantly expand resources that are available (in the city),” she said.
As a city that has declared a homeless shelter crisis, Elk Grove will have increased service that allow the city’s homeless to access HEAP-funded services, such as intensive case management.
The city’s homeless will have access to the Flexible Rehousing Program that emphasizes moving homeless people from outdoor camps and cars to temporary shelters, then to permanent housing.
Homeless people in Elk Grove who are assisted in finding housing through HEAP funding may or may not be housed in Elk Grove.
Bontrager noted that each time a homeless encampment is removed and cleaned, it costs the city about $1,500.
“Getting some of those folks housed would be a real benefit to us financially, as well as to the homeless residents,” she said.
Bontrager also stressed the importance of regional collaboration in approaching the homeless issue.
“Homelessness is a problem that affects all of the jurisdictions in this region, and we need to look at how we can solve it together,” she said. “And one way is comprehensive service coverage.”
She noted that regional collaboration discourages homeless persons from relocating from one jurisdiction to another to take advantage of different benefits.
“If we all have the same services, then we have one approach, and there’s no sort of a Swiss cheese approach, where certain services are available in some places and not in other places.”
Mayor Steve Ly explained to Bontrager why he supported the resolution.
“You asked for additional tools,” he said. “I’m providing this to you. I know that you have a good head on your shoulders and I know that your approach makes logical sense. I trust you in this.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that the homeless community is here already. If it may be that they have ties to Elk Grove or not, the fact of the matter is that we have to address it.”
Although Council Member Stephanie Nguyen voted for the resolution, she requested regular updates on the program.
“Our homeless population (issue) is not as bad as the city of Sacramento, and North Sac and Del Paso (Heights) and those areas, so I feel like we may be overlooked because they need (funding) more than we do,” she said.
“Anytime we can provide extra services and resources to folks in our community, I’ll be all for it. I would like updates on this.”
Vice Mayor Darren Suen requested that city staff provide the council with a quarterly report, so that the council could later determine if they want to continue with that program. The adopted resolution is valid for one year, but can be terminated earlier.
Beyond the discussion about the resolution, Council Member Steve Detrick stressed a need for a regional facility to assist homeless persons.
“It’s shameful that the county has got at least two facilities that are potential that could be refurbished and house a large number of (homeless) people, and nobody is moving forward. Nobody wants to make a decision and use either one of those facilities. We don’t have any facilities in Elk Grove; otherwise, we would do something.”
City officials in Rancho Cordova and Citrus Heights were considering adopting their own homeless shelter crisis resolutions, as of the Nov. 14 council meeting. The city of Folsom is not considering adopting such a resolution.