SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The Sacramento City Council approved a plan to open up roughly 1,000 beds to shelter people experiencing homelessness.
The goal is to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 from spreading through encampments.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors already voted unanimously to approve the plan Tuesday afternoon.
“Homelessness has always been a public health crisis,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “It’s an elevated public health crisis now because people who are living in those kinds of conditions, they are at greater risk of spreading the disease, no question.”
With few options for sanitation in encampments, Mayor Steinberg worries COVID-19 could spread quickly.
It’s why the city and county have a $15 million plan to open up nearly 1,000 beds for shelter. The plan uses funds from the state budget and emergency dollars from the federal government.
It would utilize 850 rooms from local motels and 60 trailers at Cal Expo, as well as 80 beds that would be added to existing shelters.
“So everybody we bring off the street has to be symptomatic, having tested positive or be at risk,” Steinberg explained.
For people still living in encampments, the plan also budgets for toilets, sinks, hygiene kits and hundreds of meals each day.
Cynthia Cavanaugh, the director of homeless initiatives in Sacramento County, told FOX40 that the homeless over 65 years old will be the top priority unless a homeless person already has a confirmed case of the virus.
“The trailers are located at Cal Expo. There is no walk-ups. There is all closed to referral, which is really important for people to understand,” explained Cavanaugh. “If they are 20 years old, homeless and get COVID, they will be at the top of the list over anybody else”
Vice Mayor Jeff Harris told FOX40 he hopes this plan may help trigger a kickstart to solving the homeless crisis.
“In a way, the COVID crisis has given us an opportunity that we have been looking for, for a long time, meaning federal resources to do something robust and quickly,” said Harris.
Bob Erlenbusch, with the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, said he is glad to see action being taken now but also said there needs to be more urgency.
“I mean, it’s a good start,” he told FOX40. “I would have hoped they would have at least opened up some hotel rooms up immediately and then phase in the rest as they have the ability to. This seems too late to try to save as many lives of people experiencing homelessness as possible.”
The funding is only for the pandemic, so people who are granted access to shelter may be back on the streets as soon as their symptoms go away.
But the mayor hopes to use this as an opportunity to help get people into permanent housing.
“There are a lot of options, including the potential of buying these motels that we are going to lease,” Steinberg said. “Can we use this to actually get people from the streets of Sacramento under a safe roof with a chance at a better life?”
Officials are still working to figure out transportation to and from the facilities. Mayor Steinberg said they plan to start moving people into shelters this week.