Student Fellowship

Preventing People from Becoming Homeless in Sacramento

Project Area:

Homelessness

City:

Sacramento, California

Reporting to:

Chief of Staff, Mayor’s Office

The Challenge

In the past five years, the City and County of Sacramento have helped nearly 18,000 people end their homelessness and find housing. Yet the number of unsheltered people on the streets has increased. Every two years (except for the three COVID years) Sacramento County conducts a Point in Time (PIT) count of how many people are experiencing homelessness on a given night.1 According to this count, the number of unsheltered people sleeping outdoors or in vehicles doubled from January 2019 to January 2022, Many other California localities recorded increases during this period as well, though San Francisco (combined city and county jurisdiction) saw its numbers decrease slightly over the same time period. The period between 2020 and 2022 also coincided with a steep increase in rents in the Sacramento market. Suddenly able to work remotely, many high-income earners migrated from the Bay Area to Sacramento. Rents jumped by about a third in a two year period before moderating somewhat in the second half of 2022. 

Reducing unsheltered homelessness is the top priority for Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and for many other top elected officials in California. While substance abuse and the need for better health treatment drive the most visible homelessness statewide, experts have concluded that high housing prices are largely to blame for the overall rise. The winding down of a federally-funded rental assistance program launched during the pandemic has raised concerns that more people could lose their housing, leading to another increase in people on the street. The Sacramento Emergency Rental Housing Assistance program used federal funds to provide about $154 million in rental assistance to 15,000 households in the city and county over the past three years. But the U.S. Treasury is no longer adding money to the program, and more than 12,900 households remain on the waiting list in Sacramento. 

The city and county have devoted considerable funding to standing up emergency shelter and building more affordable housing. The city of Sacramento has created 1,150 additional shelter beds and safe spaces a night and has about 2,000 affordable housing units under construction or close to breaking ground. The city recently reached a partnership agreement with Sacramento County for greater delivery of outreach, mental health, and substance abuse treatment. Mayor Steinberg and other local leaders recognize that as long as thousands of additional people become homeless every year, the numbers will not get better. The Sacramento City Council recently allocated $2 million in state Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention Grant funds to help prevent homelessness by providing emergency financial assistance, including utility payments, for people at risk of homelessness. Working alongside city officials, the fellow will seek to answer these questions about what will keep people housed and slow the flow of unhoused people onto Sacramento city streets. 

  1. Did the Sacramento Emergency Rental Assistance Program prevent an even greater increase in homelessness between 2019 and 2023?
  2. Now that the program has ended, are those households that had received assistance still at risk of becoming homeless?
  3. What portion of households in the city are currently at risk of losing their housing?
  4. What are the most effective steps government can take to prevent people from losing their housing?
  5. Is Sacramento employing best practices to keep people housed?

What You’ll Do

To address these questions, the fellow will engage in interviews with key internal and external stakeholders including people experiencing homelessness, government officials, landlords, service providers, local universities, and experts. They will conduct a comparative analysis of HMIS and PIT data collected by Sacramento Steps Forward to understand the trends driving homelessness in Sacramento. In addition, they will interview staff from other jurisdictions to learn about effective approaches as well as their plans for using state Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention Grant funds. Key deliverables include:

  1. A report on contributing causes of the increase in people experiencing homelessness and useful strategies for preventing homelessness in Sacramento.
  2. Presentation to the Mayor, City Manager, and to Sacramento Steps Forward. 

What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills: 

  • Data analysis
  • Qualitative interviewing and analysis
  • Policy analysis
  • Human center design and interviewing with empathy
  • Writing and editing


1 Sacramento Steps Forward manages the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and conducts the Point in Time (PIT) Count for Sacramento County. The Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) is a local information technology system that is used by homeless service providers to collect confidential client-level data including demographics, history of homelessness and services accessed, and service needs.

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