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'I Want Our City To Be The First': Sacramento Mayor Hopes To Make Housing A Right; Unhoused Advocates Opposed

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - Sacramento's mayor announced a first-of-its-kind plan at his State of the City address on Wednesday. He hopes to make shelter a legal right, and not an option - but it would also make it mandatory for the unhoused to take advantage of it.

Not everyone is in favor of the idea.

Downtown business owners see the crisis in action every day.

"It's a daily part of being down here - having to deal with somebody," said Ross Rojek, owner of Capital Book.

He's befriended many of those who find shelter on the streets, and he knows the few that may cause trouble.

"I know the regulars by name and I can move them along by telling them to go somewhere else," he said.

Just down the street at City Hall, Mayor Darrell Steinberg spoke with CBS13 about his newest solution. The plan not only adds new safe sites across the city to accommodate up to 5,000 more people but also pledges $75million to make housing a right.

"I want to turn the law on its head. I want our city to be the first," Steinberg said about the novel proposal hoping to clear Sacramento's many tent-lined streets. He said, though, it would also make it mandatory for those living on the streets to take shelter if offered.

"We cannot provide treatment living under the bridge or living on the parkway," Steinberg said.

But what if they say no? Steinberg said the city could turn to civil enforcement, and implement similar rules like Sacramento County's Laura's Law, which can ask courts to force people into treatment or hospitalization if they're a danger to themselves or others.

Some homeless advocates have spoken up, critical of the mayor's most recent move. Faye Wilson Kennedy, who works with the Poor People's Campaign, said while this may sound good in theory - it's not a safe solution, and adds to the trauma already experienced on the streets. She said it's especially worrisome for those who may be afraid of shelter situations due to violence or the lack of privacy.

Kennedy said she fears the worst for those who may turn down the help and believes it could be a slippery slope.

"In the end, people are going to be held criminally responsible and then that's going to be held against them when they want other services," Kennedy said. "Forcing people into housing they don't want or don't feel safe in is not the answer to the problem."

Steinberg refuted advocates' criminal claims.

"The obligation to come indoors should never be a criminal violation," he said.

Still, those who have come to know the homeless firsthand, like Rojek, hope there's a solution and say shelter can't be the only solution.

"Without services, nothing gets fixed," said Rojek. "Housing first - plus services - solves a lot of the problem. Not all of it, but a chunk."

Advocates, like Kennedy, said there's not enough shelter for the thousands of unhoused people at the moment. She hopes to see abandoned buildings and office spaces turned into places of refuge.

Mayor Steinberg hopes this potential Sacramento solution could set a trend, and aid a crisis felt across California.

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