The right thing

Jeff vonKaenel

The days are getting shorter. The weather is getting colder. We are turning on the heater and adding that extra blanket. And for thousands of our Sacramento neighbors without a dwelling unit, it is time to prepare for life on the streets in the rain and the cold.

While it is difficult to get an accurate number of those who will be living on the streets, a recent survey counted around 2,600 total homeless. Homeless advocates suggest that many people who are out in the weather are simply not counted.

This number is greater than the number of shelter beds. During the summer, we have roughly 800 beds in our shelters and we add another 235 during the winter months. It is not enough. That is why there are waiting lists for the shelters.

The colder weather and the rain make a bad situation worse. It is one thing to sleep in your car in August. But imagine sleeping in your car in January, when the evening temperature is below freezing. It is one thing to sleep outside on a clear, warm night. But imagine trying to stay warm in the freezing rain.

If you have ever suffered from the flu in a warm bed, then it is easy to imagine how sleeping in the elements could lead to worse health problems. Many of our neighbors without dwelling units will be hospitalized this winter with illnesses caused more by the lack of housing than by disease.

And many will end up in jail. In a previous century, the novelist Anatole France said, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread.”

The words are still true today. Many crimes that will result in jail time are the result of a lack of housing. For example: illegal camping. For example: being drunk in public.

When was the last time you heard of someone arrested for camping in a state park, or being drunk inside their house or apartment?

And there are worse results. One of our homeless neighbors dies on the street every seven days. Obviously, a lack of shelter beds and affordable housing will increase this number.

We need to do more. At press time, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors is considering a measure to provide more support for shelter beds, motel vouchers and housing. It is an important first step. But, even if this passes, it won’t be enough. We must do more.

We need to push for a more comprehensive solution to this problem. It’s possible that taking care of our homeless neighbors would end up costing about the same as housing them in hospitals and jails. The long-term benefit to our community would be huge. And, of course, it’s the right thing to do.

When you curl up under that extra blanket tonight, know that within a few miles of you, or perhaps a few hundred yards of you, someone is looking for extra cardboard as shelter from the rain.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.