Sacramento mayor proposes mandatory housing for homeless amid statewide crisis

Sacramento mayor proposes mandatory housing for homeless amid statewide crisis

By Peter Aitken

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has proposed a “right to housing” as the California homeless crisis continues to grow more severe.

The state has around 161,000 people struggling with homelessness, and the state’s leadership is coming up short with answers. As the most populous state, California has the highest number of homeless people, according to government statistics: The state also boasts the fourth-highest rate of homeless per capita in the U.S.

Steinberg announced a plan Wednesday, during his State of the City address, that he believes will help his city and the state at large to better tackle the crisis: A “right to housing” along with an “obligation” for homeless people to accept shelter when offered.

The first-of-its-kind measure would empower government and authorities to comply with federal rulings that have made it increasingly difficult to enforce laws against homeless camps if alternatives do not exist.

“I would rather have Sacramento bravely lead than follow,” Steinberg said. “Let’s do it ourselves without a court order.”

“I don’t expect perfection or a cure,” he continued. “But a legal requirement will change the mindset and expectations of our city and the region.”

The city would create 5,000 housing spaces by July as part of a plan to provide the mandated housing for homeless individuals, the Sacramento Bee reported. However, the actual legislation would need to come from the City Council.

A homeless person could face civil enforcement – not criminal – if they should decline the housing.

The plan has provoked strong reactions across the board.

Bob Erlenbusch of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness said he supports the requirement, but he questions the enforcement.

“I think it’s an incredible precedent for our community to provide that kind of progressive leadership,” Erlenbusch said. “But there are still a lot of issues that need to be explained.”

However, Eric Tars, the legal director of the National Homelessness Law Center in Washington, D.C., said the plan “undermines” the idea of a “right to housing.”

“The right to housing is based on the inherent dignity of the individual, so a straightforward obligation to accept whatever is offered undermines that,” Tars said, adding that “sometimes the pendulum swings too far.”

The mayor indicated that, while a penalty has not yet been specified, a likely remedy might include education or treatment of some kind, KCRA reported.

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