Category Archives: News

WHAT: United Way’s Day of Caring

Day of Caring brings together business leaders, community members,
campaign coordinators, nonprofit partners and volunteers across the
region to work on service projects that will make an impact. Volunteer
teams range in size from 10 – 200 and come out to tackle meaningful
projects that address community needs.
This toolkit provides emails and social media posts to help promote Day
of Caring, solicit volunteers and to garner general awareness of Day of
Caring and its activities.

WHEN: Saturday, September 23. Start promoting today!
WHO: Volunteers, corporate partners, general public

WHERE: Kick off the day on Saturday morning Sept. 23 at 8:30 a.m. at Cal Expo with
volunteer projects hosted throughout Amador, El Dorado, Placer,
Sacramento and Yolo counties.

WHY: Day of Caring. Volunteers are ready to participate in collaborative projects
that create positive change, build community gardens, paint walls, read to
kids, stuff envelopes, build picnic tables, put together supplies, plant trees
and more. This is your chance to show first hand the great work your
organization does and garner some attention and support from potential
donors and media.

For more information visit: Day of Caring 

Homeless people suffer illnesses and accidents at a rate far higher than the rest of the population. This is not only another of their challenges — it can be a contributing factor in putting them into homelessness in the first place. This photo story was taken in Gainesville, Fla., for an Advanced Photojournalism class at the University of Florida.

How hard is it for the homeless to receive healthcare and what barriers do they encounter?

According to the recent 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress on a single night in 2016, over half a million people were experiencing homelessness in the United States of America.

Homeless in Sacramento - Renee C. Byer, photographer

Sacramento Bee, July 10, 2017

BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD. Featured photograph by Renee C. Byer

Every night, more than 3,600 people are homeless in Sacramento County, a heartbreaking statistic that’s 30 percent higher than it was in 2015.

The results of a federally mandated headcount of homeless people are as dispiriting as expected.

Hundreds of men and women, many of them old and mentally ill, roam the downtown streets, parks, and, yes, suburbs of this capital city, deprived of permanent shelter. And despite the millions of dollars spent getting people into housing, more than half sleep outside – a stunning 85 percent increase in just two years.

“This is not just a sobering report,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg shouted into a bank of microphones on Monday. “This is a damning report!”

He’s right to be angry.

Even outside of downtown, it has become increasingly clear that homelessness is on the rise in Sacramento. But year after year, the city and county – mostly the county – have failed to implement a joint plan of action. The current arrangement, in which city and county staff talk past each other about parallel and in some cases redundant solutions, is not collaboration.

Without a redoubled, coordinated, concentrated effort to add shelters, build affordable housing, and ramp up mental health and addiction services, the number of homeless population will soon be even more “damning.”

The federally mandated Point In Time count is a snapshot, but in county after county, it shows homelessness growing not just in Sacramento, but across California.

Los Angeles County has the population of a small city living on its streets, with homelessness rising 23 percent to 57,794 people – so many that voters there raised their sales tax to fund homeless programs. Orange, Alameda and Butte counties also reported increases.

As a whole, the Golden State has the highest rate of homelessness in the country. But that doesn’t excuse Sacramento’s long inability to consolidate resources and agree on a unified strategy to address this glaring problem.

Hiring park rangers to move homeless people off the American River Parkway, as Supervisor Phil Serna has suggested, may seem bold. But what good is rousting campers when shelters and mental health facilities are too crowded to help?

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature also share blame – starting with their failure to enact meaningful legislation to ease the housing crisis.

Last month, they approved a budget with no new money for affordable housing, despite dozens of bills being introduced to do just that. Without a sufficient stock of affordable housing and jobs with salaries that keep up with skyrocketing rents, getting people off the streets is often an exercise in futility.

Already, stories abound of Sacramentans being forced out of their homes and onto the streets because they can’t afford rent – now a median $1,200 a month.

Homeless people with children seem to have better luck. The Point In Time count found most in Sacramento to be in shelters or transitional housing, and the number of homeless families with kids had mercifully dropped by 25 percent.

But what of the lone adults, such as Edwin Lopez, who, as The Bee’s Marcos Breton reported, struggled out of homelessness to become a California Highway Patrol officer? And what of the oldest of Sacramento’s homeless population, the male military veterans camped on the parkway? Many suffer from PTSD made worse by their chaotic living conditions.

Many in Sacramento look down our noses at San Francisco for a letting homelessness fester on its otherwise beautiful streets. But you know what they say about stones and glass houses.

“This report is a call to action,” Steinberg said. “No excuses. No boundaries. The only thing that matters is we dramatically reduce these numbers.”

Heads should roll if we can’t improve on this situation before the next Point In Time count.

Read more »

Homeless man by Sac Bee Photographers. Video by Hector Amezcua, Randall Benton and Jose Villegas. Produced by Sue Morrow

Article from the Sacramento Bee, July 10, 2017.

Video by Hector Amezcua, Randall Benton and Jose Villegas. Produced by Sue Morrow.
Shawn Porter woke up in William Land Park on Friday and smoked a Marlboro Red for breakfast not far from the zoo where he worked selling popcorn as a kid.A few miles away, behind a south Sacramento dumpster, Steve Devlin used the morning light to search for a set of dice his displeased lady-friend chucked into the bushes at his street camp close to the mobile home park where his parents once lived.

Deja Sturdevan’s day began by pushing past prickly branches guarding her sleeping quarters in shrubbery near a heavily trafficked boulevard in Antelope, blocks from a house she said she lived in for 14 years with her ex-husband before divorce and drugs put her in the weeds.


“This is my neighborhood,” said Sturdevan, blond hair in a ponytail and nails painted with glittery polish. “I’m comfortable here.”

This trio are among the 3,665 people living without permanent shelter in Sacramento County, according to a new count released Monday by Sacramento Steps Forward, the agency that coordinates local efforts to aid the homeless.

Homelessness rose by a startling 30 percent from 2,822 people the last time the transient population was counted in 2015, it said. It is the highest number of people living without permanent housing Sacramento has ever recorded.

About 2,000 of those counted by the survey are living outside, marking another first: More people are now living in the elements than in shelters or other emergency housing, the reverse of previous years.

The number of unsheltered homeless in the county skyrocketed by 85 percent in recent years, making up nearly half of the increase in overall numbers. About 800 of those are chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for more than a year or have had multiple bouts of homelessness in the past three years, and have a mental, physical or developmental disability that keeps them from working.

“This is not just a sobering report, this is a damning report,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg at a Monday press conference. “This report is a call to action, no excuses.”

Porter, Devlin and Sturdevan highlight a trend among the long-term homeless people who spend nights in the open: The majority are from here, often living in familiar areas where they grew up or have ties to the community. Sacramento Steps Forward has found 70 percent of people it comes in contact with say they are from the city where they are currently sleeping – whether it’s Sacramento, a surrounding suburb or the unincorporated part of the county.

“It’s important to own that these people on your street are your people,” said Ryan Loofbourrow, CEO of Sacramento Steps Forward. “It’s easier to think this is a tragedy that has come to us.”

Because more homeless people are staying close to their former homes, their numbers – and visibility – are growing outside of Sacramento’s urban core and the American River Parkway. More are in residential areas and suburbs that previously had few people living outdoors.

Rancho Cordova resident Karen Edwards volunteers in a homeless assistance program. She said she first realized people in her area needed help when her church congregation took part in the winter sanctuary program, a rotating network of faith centers that offers a place for homeless people to sleep in cold months. Those nightly guests are bused in from central sites, but Edwards said she was surprised to find that people closer to her home also were in need.

“We had local homeless knocking on the door, asking, ‘Can we come in?’ ” she said. “I think the thing that we’re learning the most, they’re not homeless migrating from other places … The majority of the homeless in Rancho Cordova are from Rancho Cordova.”

Fatemah Bradley-Martinez, housing services supervisor for Sacramento Self-Help Housing, said, like Sturdevan, many homeless people value familiarity and social connections over the benefits of being closer to aid organizations and governmental offices in downtown Sacramento.

“They grew up in those cities; they don’t have a desire to relocate to the city (of Sacramento) just to receive services,” Bradley-Martinez said.

Volunteers counted 188 people living unsheltered in Citrus Heights, said the report. Rancho Cordova has 76 homeless people. Elk Grove had 18. Homeless clusters also were found in Folsom, north Natomas and south Sacramento, among other areas.

Flooded camps

The numbers are taken from a single-night tally of homeless people counted by volunteers. The biennial count, required for federal funding, is meant to provide a point-in-time snapshot of life on the streets. Sacramento Steps Forward receives about $19 million in annual funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Loofbourrow said.

The one-night count is also used to estimate overall numbers of homeless people in the county for the entire year – higher numbers than the one-night count. The previous count estimated that 7,619 households would experience homelessness at some point during 2016 – 1,844 of them families with children.

The suburban sprawl of homelessness hasn’t lessened the concentration of people living along the rivers and downtown, where transient populations have long bedded down and where most homeless people remain. More than 60 percent of homeless people in the county were found in the city of Sacramento.

Volunteers who worked on the homeless count reported dense clusters of transients along the levees and Garden Highway. They counted 363 tents, three times as many as during the previous tally. That rise was likely due to people driven off the American River itself by heavy flooding over the winter, Loofbourrow said. The week before the count took place, flooding was extreme and people who likely were living deep in the wooded areas around the river were forced into more visible areas, adding numbers to the count, he said.

The migration from waterways hit Discovery Park and the area around Cal Expo the hardest, the report states.

Many of those who had been camping in the dense vegetation of the lower parkway were older military veterans living alone, Loofbourrow said, a finding consistent with the conclusion that veterans throughout the region aren’t faring well. The number of former military on the streets jumped by 50 percent to 469, an especially troubling figure since this population has been specifically targeted for help – though as a percentage of the homeless population their numbers remained stable.

The majority of these vets reported being chronically homeless, and 65 percent said they had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Families with children – another group targeted for aid – did better, with their numbers declining by 25 percent, though volunteers did find seven kids living with an unsheltered parent.

Homeless people also clustered in downtown and midtown, an ongoing point of tension as new, high-end housing and the revitalization sparked by Golden 1 Center increases pressure on the city to move homeless people out of the area.

Sacramento police were unable to say if transient-related nuisance calls have increased in recent years, referring the question to the Public Records Act process. But Councilman Steven Hansen said his downtown district has seen the effects of more homeless people.

On June 30, city crews cleared out 32,000 pounds of garbage and homeless people’s unattended belongings from under the elevated freeway between W and X streets, a common transient camping area, Hansen said.

One week later, nearly a dozen homeless campers were back under the concrete canopy. A 23-year-old woman who identified herself as Sabrina M., a former Del Taco manager, said she has been staying under the freeway for a year. Before that, she and a small crew of friends stayed in an abandoned building near 19th and X streets.

Sabrina, short and muscular with brown hair and tan skin, said the police force campers to move every day. But they don’t go far.

“We move a block down,” she said.

Regardless of where they are found, the report “confirms what we all have been seeing with our own eyes,” said Joan Burke of Loaves & Fishes, which provides meals and other services to hundreds of people every weekday near downtown Sacramento. “There is a very visible increase in the number of unsheltered homeless people.”

‘Trying to find a door’

Burke blamed the increase on a lack of affordable housing in the region, which the report also highlights. As home prices and rents rise, this shortage of housing is quickly becoming one of the most pressing problems throughout California. The Sacramento Steps Forward report noted that other cities in California have experienced similar recent spikes in homelessness.

Housing prices in the state for both rentals and purchases have long outpaced the rest of the nation and continue to rise, found a 2015 report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office. At the same time, California is not building enough new middle- and low-income housing to meet demand, and state funds for affordable housing have largely dried up.

The California Legislature is debating a potential package of housing bills to increase funding and ease development restrictions, including one that could raise up to $250 million a year for low-incoming housing development through a $75 fee on real estate transactions. That measure, Senate Bill 2, is moving forward but its fate is far from certain.

Housing costs are one of the strongest warning factors for homeless rates in communities. In places where a high percentage of residents spend more than 30 percent of income on housing, homelessness tends to be high, Loofbourrow said. In Sacramento, 4 out of 10 residents spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing, according to the Sacramento Housing Alliance, an advocacy and research group that supports building more affordable housing.

Several recent reports from real estate firms show Sacramento’s recent year-over-year rent increases are among the highest in the nation, with median rents in Sacramento County increasing by 18 percent between 2000 and 2017. Median Sacramento income declined by 11 percent during the same period, a recent housing alliance report said.

At the same time, 96.4 percent of apartments in Sacramento are occupied, the highest rate in the state and the sixth highest in the country, a report issued this month by RealPage, a company whose software analyzes data from real estate leases.

Sacramento also lacks shelter beds and long-term supportive housing that provides residents with mental health, medical and other services, the Sacramento Steps Forward report found. The city has about 1,200 to 1,400 shelter beds available on a given night, far less than what would be needed to house all those sleeping outdoors.

Right now, housing options for homeless people in the region have long waiting lists, leaving people stuck in queues and on the street.

“I need more units of housing to make our best efforts work,” Loofbourrow said. “We’re trying to find a door to put a key in.”

Lynne Guensler used to sleep in her green Mazda with her adult son, Brandon Reyes, and their Siamese cat, Fluffy, a few yards away from where Porter was smoking his morning cigarette in Land Park last week.

In February, two years after losing their Riverside Boulevard apartment and 18 months after beginning to work with Sacramento Steps Forward, she and Reyes are finally in a permanent house, she said Thursday – a shared home where they each have a room that costs 30 percent of their income and where Fluffy is welcomed. Reyes is back in community college and Guensler feels stable. But it was a long and at times frustrating process despite her best efforts, she said.

“We went through all the hoops,” Guensler said. “I did everything they asked of me.”

The Sacramento Housing Alliance, in a report released Friday, said the county would need to create 62,072 more affordable homes to meet current needs. Since 2008, it said, Sacramento County has lost 66 percent of its state and federal funding for affordable homes, more than $44 million annually.

That makes Guensler’s outcome enviable to those who still need help.

Mayor Steinberg said at the press conference that a lack of coordinated effort between the city and county is also to blame. The city and county are working on parallel tracks on a number of fronts, and have clashed on some proposals.

The county declined to apply with the city for $64 million in federal funding for health services for vulnerable populations including the homeless, money the city will now independently administer. Both the city and county are also pursuing plans for new homeless shelters, and a series of joint meetings seem to have sputtered after an initial one early this year.

On Tuesday, Sacramento County supervisors will consider a crackdown on the American River Parkway with more sheriff’s deputies and park rangers. If adopted – at a cost of up to $5 million – the plan would be at odds with the city’s emphasis on outreach with social workers rather than law enforcement. It could potentially push more homeless off the river and into neighborhoods without the immediate capacity to house them, also at odds with Steinberg’s resistance to shifting transient populations without shelter options.

“We have no commitment, and let’s be honest about it, to consolidating our resources and our various programs,” Steinberg said at the press conference. “We must have one system.”

Supervisor Phil Serna said the county is well aware partnership is needed to bring down the number of homeless.

“I can’t stress enough that all of us on the Board … we are letting everyone that’s interested know that we are very eager to partner with not just the city of Sacramento, but all seven cities in our county and the cities and counties in our region on this complicated issue,” Serna said.

Read more »

HCH Day (August 16) celebrates the special population health centers of

Health Care for the Homeless (HCH). Each year consumers and staff! at HCH

organizations hold events to highlight our shared work to meet the basic

health care needs of people without homes, eliminate health disparities, and

end homelessness. These events allow HCH projects to build relationships

with community partners, engage elected officials, and show appreciation for

the consumers, staff, and communities that support the vital work of HCH.


For more information visit:

















A computer rendering of the new Joshua's House

Something unexpected, and quite unthinkable, happened to Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater in 2014. The founder of the Health Communication Research Institute and former professor/director at the UC Davis Cancer Center, was notified that her 34-year-old grandson had died homeless while living on the streets of Omaha, Neb.

His death came five months before his twin sons were born. With the pain and shock of loss still fresh, and with tears in her eyes, Marlene says, “My grandson Joshua was a truly wonderful human being. Even though we were very, very close, I had no idea he was living on the streets.”

She was aware that he had some health issues, and a few brief encounters with substance abuse, but never imagined that he would be among the homeless.

“He was someone that everyone wanted to be around,” she says. “He didn’t have a judgmental bone in his body, and he had a crazy, almost genius, sense of humor.”

Read the full article by Craig Dresang »

Vet clinic at Loaves & Fishes

Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless is a 501(c)3, non-profit organization (completely independent of UC Davis) providing free medical care for the animal companions of the homeless. The clinic meets the second Saturday of every month at Loaves and Fishes, a Sacramento-based organization which provides an array of services to the homeless.

Mercer Clinic is a cooperative effort between multiple groups, including veterinary volunteers (doctors and students), undergraduate vet aide students, and veterinary companies sponsoring efforts. More than 30 veterinary students, working alongside veterinarians, volunteer their time each month, working with clients, conducting physical exams and practicing preventive medicine on feline & canine patients (heartworm prevention, flea treatment and vaccines).

Mercer Clinic would not run smoothly without the help from the Vet-Aide Club, an undergraduate club that offers students the opportunity to gain experience with veterinary students and professionals. The clinic gives these students the opportunity to gain crucial hands-on experience while assisting at the clinic and working as a team with veterinary students.

Mercer Clinic is also an extremely valuable educational experience for the veterinary students. Not only are the students able to utilize a clinical application of their studies, but they also gain valuable time working with and learning from practicing veterinarians. Students must follow up on their cases—if waiting on test results—by contacting the clients, in turn teaching them valuable communication skills. These types of responsibilities will help veterinary students improve skills that will enrich their careers in the future.

In addition to improving the lives of the pets of the homeless, the clinic works to reduce pet over-population. Clients are counseled on the benefits of spaying and neutering. Surgery is provided at no cost, usually at a spay/neuter clinic held the day after, should the owners elect to alter their animals. Since 1993, the clinic has altered over 1,200 animals.

Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless was selected as the 1998 recipient of the American Veterinary Medical Association Humane Award and the 2005 recipient of the Sacramento SPCA “Humane-itarian” Award. Both awards recognize outstanding efforts to eliminate animal cruelty and promote the humane treatment of animals.

Photos from Mercer Clinic

Vet student at clinic

people feeding the homeless

April 1, 2015

Press Release – First Step Communities

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – April 1, 2016 – First Step Communities today announced the adoption of the Pilgrimage Sacramento shelter program, which was a former project of Safe Ground Sacramento. The Pilgrimage Sacramento Program (PSP) has been providing safe shelter, nutritious meals, and renewed hope to our Sacramento homeless citizens since 2009.

First Step Communities (FSC) believes that this strategic decision will allow the PSP to continue serving the homeless population as it has done since 2009 and achieve its five-year goal to be the year round first responder to our most vulnerable homeless citizens. The PSP five-year objectives target the provision of shelter 365 days per year and strives to significantly improve the breadth of services that are provided to our homeless citizens enabling them to become more self-sufficient. The PSP provides shelter, meals and safety to those most vulnerable homeless individuals, and by doing so, is saving lives.

During the last four years, 2012-2015, the PSP has served 67,660 meals, conducted overnight shelters for 27,810 individual bed-nights and contributed a community value of >$1.45M to efforts to address the need for shelter, meals and safety for the homeless citizens of Sacramento. The PSP is supported by six host churches and their congregations and volunteers, by local foodbanks, food closets and businesses, and by individual donors and volunteers, as well as, local, city and foundation grants. The six churches participating are: Bayside Midtown, First Church of the Nazarene, Pioneer Congregational United Church of Christ, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, and the First Methodist Church of Sacramento.

The PSP is unique in that 90% of the volunteer team are homeless citizens that are working to help each other improve their individual situations. They are the biggest resource utilized in making the PSP a success. PSP utilizes their skills, gifts, talents and learning-abilities to take on volunteer tasks and shifts around the clock with commitments just like those of a real job. These are homeless people who live on our streets, by the river, and in our alleys assuming responsibility to lead others in an attempt to help someone else.

Upon completion of the transition, Dave Coburn, who currently serves as Program Director of Pilgrimage Sacramento will continue in that role with FSC. Mr. Coburn has been with the PSP under Safe Ground Sacramento for four years and has dedicated his volunteer leadership to redesigning the program for success and growing the program into a year-round program. “I am excited about our transition to become an FSC program,” said Mr. Coburn. “We look forward to integrating with other planned community activities at First Step as the first responder program aimed at supporting the most vulnerable.”

About First Step Communities…
First Step Communities is a nonprofit that proposes a public-private partnership program between the City of Sacramento and/or Sacramento County and FSC.

“Our objective is to work together with the city, county and Sacramento Steps Forward to provide a part of an integrated solution to reduce the gap between available permanent affordable housing units and other housing programs and the number of unsheltered homeless within Sacramento neighborhoods,” says Stephen Watters, executive director of FSC.

FSC wants to sign a long-term lease on a publically-owned parcel of land and provide energy efficient, solar powered sleeping cabins (tiny homes) and a community center with facilities for a medical clinic and triage center, counseling areas, and areas dedicated to provide job readiness and life skills training. FSC has designed the facility as a replicable solution that can be duplicated through the greater Sacramento region as required. The sleeping cabins are transportable and can be moved when no longer needed in a particular neighborhood, leaving the local area with a donated community center and medical clinic facility.

Learn more at: and
For media inquiries, contact:
Stephen Watters, Executive Director
First Step Communities
(916) 769-8877

For Pilgrimage Sacramento Program inquiries, Contact
Alan Osterstock, Assistant Director PSP
First Step Communities
(916) 622-1671