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Sac State research shows a majority of Sacramento-area residents support more taxes to help the homeless

Institute for Social Research (ISR) survey results show a high percentage of residents in the region encounter homeless people every day, and a majority say government entities should provide more help to the unhoused. (Photo courtesy Sacramento Steps Forward)

A majority of Sacramento-area residents would support a tax increase to fund services for homeless people, a new poll by Sacramento State’s Institute for Social Research (ISR) shows.

The institute’s survey also found that most residents would prefer the government offer help to individuals who are homeless, rather than clearing out encampments and other places where they live unsheltered.

The report comes as Sacramento County and the surrounding region confront a significant homelessness crisis. A recent “Point in Time” count revealed 9,278 people in the county were without shelter on a given night, a 67% jump compared to the previous tally in 2019.

“We are addressing a real community issue,” said Shannon Williams, executive director of ISR, which conducted its poll in May. “I live in the urban core of the city, and I see it on a daily basis. It’s something that is visible to all of us.”

The poll surveyed residents of Sacramento, Sutter, Yuba, Yolo, Placer, and El Dorado counties, and found more than half of residents see encampments and other signs of homelessness nearly every day. About 70% of Sacramento County respondents reported seeing those signs “almost daily,” the report shows.

Williams said she hopes the report, based on a statistically significant survey of 1,948 residents across the region, will help inform public policies.

“I hope it will add to the conversation about possible solutions,” she said.

Recently, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved two ordinances that will outlaw homeless encampments along the American River Parkway, as well as near schools, libraries, and other “critical infrastructure” areas. The poll shows that three out of five residents in the region prefer that local authorities provide services to unsheltered people rather than clearing out areas where they camp.

“We are addressing a real community issue." -- Shannon Williams, executive director of ISR

Bob Erlenbusch, a local homeless advocate and Sac State lecturer in Social Work, said the ISR survey results are enlightening. They demonstrate that city and county policies of clearing homeless encampments are “out of step with the majority of residents in Sacramento County,” he said.

Erlenbusch said he hopes local governments “take notice of the finding that a majority in our region would support a tax to support city and county initiatives, which to me means shelter, housing, and services, and not more law enforcement."

Many of those polled said they have had a personal connection to homelessness. Across the region, 7% of respondents said they had been homeless, and 29% said they have known someone who has experienced it.

Asked how they would feel about a tax to fund services to address homelessness, 18% of respondents across the region said they would “strongly” support it, and 37% said they would “somewhat” support it.

Although counties spend millions of dollars annually on shelters and other services for unhoused people, nearly 40% of respondents said they believe their county gives a higher priority to people who have housing at the expense of the homeless.

In answering open-ended questions about homelessness, respondents expressed a wide range of opinions and feelings. People “feel bad about it, but they also feel powerless,” Williams said.

“Seeing the garbage, drug use, and obvious mental instability on a daily basis is emotionally draining,” one Sacramento County resident said.

“I am just sick of being confronted with it,” another person said. “I am losing my compassion.”

Many tied homelessness to personal choices, but others blamed the state’s lack of affordable housing.

“It annoys me that we have all of the homeless, but we are not fixing the housing-price or rent-price issue,” said someone from Yolo County. “A person used to be able to afford to provide for their family and themselves. It has become too hard for people. Most are one life emergency away from homelessness."

Chart tables displaying homelessness data from a recent survey.

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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