In the Shadows: New Arena Being Built While Homeless Struggle on the Streets

DOWNTOWN SACRAMENTO --

One downtown with two very different faces. The drive to revive Sacramento is evident in a state-of-the-art arena. But that effort is facing a troubling problem on the streets.

One downtown, there is hope for a rebirth of a city and emergence from the shadows. The other: where people feel hopeless, forgotten in the shadows.

"They could spend $500 million on a basketball court, but they won't put out a dime to help the homeless people," said Larry, who lives on the streets.

The struggle on the streets juxtaposed to a downtown on the cusp of a rebirth.

Every day, rain or shine, Sacramento's navigators, like Cody Judy, comb the streets in the capital's core. They’re looking for the down, the out and the desperate.

For three years, Cody has walked trash scattered alleyways, where windows are boarded up and the stench of urine is overwhelming. He's passionate about turning lives around, but it can be frustrating.

"Build some level of trust or get them to do something they’ve never tried or done before. That’s a win, you know?" he said.

With people like Cody and services at the ready, why is getting homeless off the street an uphill battle?

"It’s very difficult because if we want to connect that person to services, than you know, that’s when the work begins," Cody said.

A long road back to the living, said Lafayette Taylor, a plumber who hit rough times a few years ago.

"Just integrating back, transition is the hardest part. Once you’re at this point, you gotta get back," Taylor said.

And it's an even longer journey for those struggling with mental illness.

The goal: provide housing, document the homeless, enroll them in a program to get them off the streets and track their progress.

The Downtown Sacramento Partnership says there are more than 900 people sleeping on the streets of Sacramento County.

People like Larry, who has called Sacramento streets his home for 14 years. His bike and backpack are all he has.

"Any couple of thieves can just walk up on me and just beat me up and take it. They don’t care," Larry said.

He told us his health problems keep him on the streets. Like many others we met, bad health and tough breaks.

Homelessness has been a problem for years. But months away from a half-billion dollar arena opening, the city knows it needs people to feel safe walking the streets at night.

"We have not solved homelessness yet, and I think that’s something we as a community can rally around, much like we did for building the arena," says Dion Dwyer with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.

Nowhere is there more anticipation than at Seventh and K streets, where the steady hum of construction is proof of the renewal.

Elliott Ames represents three new restaurants opening on K Street this spring.

"The best thing we can do, and other businesses can do, is create fun atmospheres downtown, showing people it’s not a bad place to be," Ames said.

Once seen as dangerous, in just a decade, one section of K Street is a glimpse of what could be downtown.

A large part of the effort to tackle homelessness falls on city police -- bike patrols. Impact and Delta teams with officers assigned to connect with the homeless.

And after years of criticism that Regional Transit trains were dirty and dangerous, there's now a promise from RT to clean up and work with officers.

There is, without a doubt, a tremendous investment in resources in the downtown corridor.

But, will it work?

"I think a lot of it is bad stigma. It’s really a great place to be, and it’s only going to get better," Ames said.

While business and city leaders worry about the people who may soon flood this corridor, advocates like Cody are most concerned about the people already here.

"That’s what were here for, to pick these people back up and get them to try one more time."