Community Voices

Guest Column: This program has helped tackle the high cost of homelessness

Guest opinion column by County Supervisor Sue Frost–
At the beginning of 2018, Sacramento County launched an ambitious new program that attempted to prioritize getting the 250 homeless people who cost the most amount of money each year in taxpayer dollars into permanent housing. Some of these homeless people are costing the county upwards of $150,000 a year, so it made sense to me to focus our efforts on getting them off the streets.

Sue Frost, supervisor
Sue Frost

Now that it’s been around a year since we launched that program, I wanted to explain to you how the program works, and share with you the exciting news regarding how successful it has been.

As soon as the program was established last year, the sheriff’s department in coordination with Sacramento County Behavioral Health Services and the Sacramento County Department of Technology established the list of the 250 people costing the most money. The 250 people come from all over the county, from cities like Citrus Heights to unincorporated communities like Orangevale. These costs primarily come in the form of emergency room visits, jail visits, and utilizing alcohol, drug, and mental health services — all of which can be quite costly.

Once the 250 people were chosen, they were assigned to individual case managers who then had the job of physically locating them in the community. This is no easy task, and can often be one of the largest obstacles to getting them treatment.

Once they are found, they are told that they are eligible for fast-tracked housing and services, but convincing them to take part in it can be its own challenge. On average, this is the seventh housing program they have been affiliated with, and their level of trust with the government has often eroded. Many remain skeptical that they aren’t going to just get put on another list where nothing happens.

Once they sign up for the program, the case manager helps to clear any obstacles that may prevent them from getting the assistance they need. They will ensure they have met all their court requirements, are taking the proper medications, have a valid identification card, have a social security card, etc. After all these obstacles are lifted, they are then placed straight into housing that is wrapped in social services on-site.

The housing currently available to them are apartment-style units that are located in the Del Paso Heights area and in South Sacramento. We are using apartment-style housing for several key reasons.

First, it allows us to acquire the number of units we need in a much faster and more affordable way. Second, it allows us to save on staffing costs, since our social services staff stays on-site instead of travelling long distances between visits.

Many of my constituents were skeptical when this program was announced because they thought it would be a waste of time. They felt that these 250 homeless people would never accept county services. To be honest with you, I had some doubts as well, but remained optimistic that even if we were able to house a small portion of this segment of the homeless population, it would be a successful program.

I am thrilled to be able to report to you that 196 of the 250 have signed up for the program (including the #1 most expensive person), and 109 of them have already been housed! This is an incredible feat, and I am thrilled with the result thus far.

I know it is easy to become frustrated and jaded when trying to tackle the growing problem of homelessness in our community. The problem is so large that it can sometimes feel overwhelming. But if we focus on prudent solutions to this problem, that are mindful of protecting taxpayer dollars, we can make some positive strides in the right direction. This program is evidence of just that.

Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost formerly served as a Citrus Heights councilwoman and currently represents District 4, which includes Citrus Heights.  She can be contacted at (916) 874-5491, or SupervisorFrost@saccounty.net.

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