Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg told members of the city council during its March 8 meeting that he was “tired of taking all the heat” for the major crimes coming out of homeless areas and called for a new approach to keep residents and the unhoused safe — using law enforcement to help curb crime in homeless encampments.
“We need a new paradigm here, a new paradigm because I’m quite frankly tired of, as you all are, I’m tired of taking all the heat. I’m tired of it,” Steinberg said. “I’m tired of taking all the heat when we don’t have an alternative and I’m tired of taking the heat because of the cleanliness and safety issue in our city.”
The Northern California mayor, who had previously proposed legally enforced housing to get unhoused individuals off the streets, wants law enforcement to be more involved in protecting the homeless population from criminal activity.
“I know my stance on this might surprise people, but it’s actually very consistent,” Steinberg said. “And while we are trying to find safe places for people to live, we ought to be very aggressive on getting out of those encampments people that are preying on others.”
Steinberg has also proposed laws requiring homeless individuals to accept government housing solutions.
“Housing is a life essential. It’s life and death,” he told The Mercury News in an interview early this year.
Sacramento’s budget has allotted $100 million to be spent on homelessness over the next two years. The mayor hopes that part of that money will go toward solving the crime issue in the encampments.
However, some officials are worried about the impact an increased police presence may have.
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, advocated for more specialized training for officers to engage with homeless individuals.
“Where it becomes difficult is law enforcement going into camps without training,” he said.
Erlenbusch said he agrees with the mayor’s intentions, but is concerned about the possibility that police officers will stir up past trauma in homeless individuals who may have mental health issues.
“Rather than officers coming in and scaring everybody and not knowing why they’re there, like I said, it’s going to have to be well thought out. I appreciate the mayor bringing this issue up,” Erlenbusch said.
In response, the mayor said his proposal would make sure that responders to homeless issues would include social workers. Law enforcement would intervene if responding to a major crime or if there are any dangerous situations.
“I’ve got to be real clear, I’m not talking about law enforcement taking over the function of homeless outreach,” Steinberg said. “I’m talking about law enforcement taking a limited role.”
Steinberg said he is in talks with the city police chief on ways to approach the homeless crisis.
Currently, there are more than 5,500 people in Sacramento County experiencing homelessness.