by Marlene M. Fitzwater

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California’s sixth-largest metropolitan area – Sacramento – has now been ranked among the worst in the state in homelessness. Sacramento County’s unhoused population soared to a record 9,3000 on 2022 (and could well be above that number if all unhoused individuals were counted), up 67% since 2019.

Sacramento now has a larger unhoused population than San Francisco and the number continues to grow rapidly. California has the worst homelessness problem in the U.S. and its generally mild-to-warm climate may have a lot to do with that, but Florida has a warm climate as well and it is not grappling with nearly the same level of problem, according to Gary Mason, National Affairs Columnist for The Globe and Mail (Canada).

Governor Gavin Newsom has made addressing the state’s homeless population his number one priority. He has tied state funding to homelessness-reduction targets, but was not happy when cities sent in their plans to tackle the issue in the next couple years. Sacramento had the least ambitious target in the state.

The amount of money sent to the Sacramento region to address its homelessness crisis nearly tripled to $191 million between 2019 and 2021, but left many questioning why so little progress as made in bringing numbers down with so much money being spent to address the problem.

It turns out that building new accommodations takes time. Property needs to be acquired, contractors need to be selected from bids made, permits need to be obtained and inspection providers need to be chosen, with sufficient funds needing to be available during the entire process.

Housing advocates, often representing non-profit organizations, report that they can’t build housing without grant money while politicians are demanding to see tangible results before the city or county can provide more homelessness grants. Finding hotels and other facilities to convert into housing doesn’t happen overnight, as cities around the world are discovering, according to Mason.

One approach to help resolve the homeless crisis in Sacramento might be to identify and support non-profit organizations that can provide targeted solutions. During its more than 30 years of experience as a non-profit with a mission to address health disparities in the Sacramento region, The Health Communication Research Institute, Inc. was able to organize its resources, diverse partners and supporters and the results of countless other grants and health disparity programs to identify a major problem – the terminally ill homeless do not have access to on-going hospice care and often end up dying on the street.

The result – the creation of Joshua’s House Volunteer Hospice, which will open this fall in Sacramento. While it is able to serve only 15 to 24 terminally ill, homeless men and women at a time, it is hoped that it will be a model for more such facilities throughout the country!