When it comes to homelessness in Sacramento County, the facts are very telling.
In 2009 (the most recent available data year), approximately 2,800 homeless individuals were counted in the Sacramento area. This was a 4.6% increase from 2008. Additionally, 468 of these 2,800 were chronically homeless, meaning they had been homeless for a year or more or had multiple episodes of homelessness along with some sort of abusive addiction. (See full statistics here.)
With homelessness as a problem in virtually every major city in the U.S. and with very dim prospects of it ever going away, the city or county have some very difficult steps to take in order to address the issue head on.
However, that is just what Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has decided to do.
A little over a year ago, Mayor Johnson established the Sacramento Steps Forward program in an effort to end homelessness in Sacramento County. The program involves several initiatives that work as part of a ten year plan established to eradicate homelessness in all of Sacramento County. (Click here to see plan.)
One of the most current initiatives is the Winter Sanctuary Program. With increased county budget cuts that reduced winter shelter funding last year and that created an overall cut back in government housing projects, a crisis existed.
The Winter Sanctuary Program asked for local interfaith congregations to take part in finding a solution by offering their church facilities as a place for the homeless to stay. The results were true success.
As stated previously, approximately 2,800 people experience homelessness any given night in the greater Sacramento area. During a twenty week period between December 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011, Winter Sanctuary sheltered 550 unduplicated guests, according to Winter Sanctuary data.
Each night, volunteers from the participating congregation paid for and prepared two meals for their guests: dinner and breakfast. There were 27 different church congregations that took part in the winter of 2010-2011.
The congregations and volunteers also provided games, movies, massages, haircuts, and conversation. Over the course of the winter, 2,000 volunteers made this program a success.
One of the participating churches, Capital Christian Center, spearheaded the initiative amongst the churches and acted as the organizer and leader of the effort.
Capital Christen Center, along with their school, Capital Christian School, opened their doors to the homeless on several occasions, perhaps most notably during the week of Christmas 2010. They received extensive media coverage due to their efforts (see here for video coverage on their Port in a Storm project).
The outcome was a mutually beneficial experience for the churches and the city. The homeless were offered a place to stay, and the church rallied around a cause that embodied their belief system.
Todd Jacobs, a pastor on staff at Capital Christian Center and Superintendent of Capital Christian School, said the program was very uplifting for the church and the school.
“We helped 150 homeless people per night on average over the 20 week period, and we have approximately230 volunteers involved from the church and school.”
Mr. Jacobs also said they hoped not only to continue partnering with the city in helping house the homeless but in doing other projects that would help needy people.
“We’re very committed through our pastor, Rick Cole, and with the rest of the church and school at maintaining a partner relationship with the city that hopefully goes beyond this particular effort to help people in need.”
“We’ve been able to be part of some other similar projects that have helped people in the community purchase homes, and I hope we can be part of an initiative like this and others again in the future,” Jacobs stated.
In an interview with Fox 40 news in Sacramento, representative Joaquin McPeek from Mayor Johnson’s office said that the efforts in Sacramento are a step up from what other localities in California have previously done.
“Certainty you see other cities tackling this issue and working with the faith community, but I believe that the mayor and the faith community have stepped up in a real way here in Sacramento that is really unprecedented.”
Overall, the Sacramento Steps Forward program points to something that all city and county administrators can cling to in an era of economic uncertainty: the impact of non-profit organizations.
For example, there are currently an estimated 73,000 homeless people in Los Angeles alone and, as stated previously, up to 2,800 in Sacramento. When included with all other localities in the state, the numbers are staggering as are their potentially negative consequences.
This level of homelessness causes many problems for local jurisdictions: crime, dirty streets, less appeal to potential employers, less appeal to potential residents, re-location by current residents, more pressure on local police, stress fiscally on local governments to take care of needy citizens, destruction of public property, and more.
Non-profit organizations assist in remedying the problem to localities by leading homeless people to lives of self-sufficiency.
The Sacramento Steps Forward program serves as a template for other localities throughout the state to examine as a possible cure to their own homelessness issues. While it may not be a perfect model for every area to follow, it certainly proves that the positive impact of non-profits can be seen in a real and tangible way.
As one of the homeless people who took part in the Port in a Storm program in Sacramento stated, “I’ve met some tremendous people with a lot of love in their hearts. It’s just fantastic.”
For a previous PublicCEO.com exclusive examining various nonprofit organizations throughout the state in detail and their beneficial impact on local governments, see here.
Andrew Carico can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org