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Guest Opinion: free stuff won’t solve homelessness; but a job might

Guest opinion by Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost–
Helping those caught in homelessness is an act of compassion — part of our duty as human beings. But handing out free stuff doesn’t really solve the problem or provide a path out of homelessness — but a job might.

Sue Frost, supervisor
Sue Frost

Homelessness is increasing in Sacramento County every year, and the community is demanding action to reverse this worrying trend. Last year, Sacramento County introduced four new homeless initiatives geared primarily towards increasing access to homeless shelters and free/affordable housing, which is in critically low supply compared to the enormous demand.

But while these programs are important, I can’t help but feel that we are neglecting to adequately address the issue of helping them get a job, which is the biggest thing that can be done to ensure people experiencing homelessness break the cycle and become self-sufficient.

When I am in Citrus Heights talking with my constituents, many people tell me we need to make more services available to people experiencing homeless. But an equally large number of people tell me that the more services we provide, the more homeless are attracted to the area, and the more we are making them dependent on government handouts.

This was especially evident to me during my most recent survey of Citrus Heights residents, where over 65% of respondents told me that they think we need to have a mix of “compassion” and “tough love” when trying to decrease the explosion of homelessness. I believe helping connect people to a job allows them to regain their sense of self-worth, establish a level of trust with their local government so they can be connected to available services, and eventually become productive members of society again (and potentially even give back). This is a concept that everyone should be able to agree with.

Many of the people experiencing homelessness have simply lost hope and given up; they do not remember what it is like to work for a paycheck and they lack self-confidence. By getting paid for doing work, they can help to restore their sense of self-worth, and also begin to establish a level of trust with their local government so they can be connected to available services designed to help them get back on their feet.

To that end, earlier this year I began working with staff to create a program to connect homeless individuals with jobs and training. We do not have to reinvent the wheel, there are programs across the country that have seen great success that we can use as models. I’m not predisposed to one model over another — as long as we create something that works for Sacramento County.

Related: Supervisor Frost: Here’s a hidden reason why homelessness is exploding

One program that has been utilized now in 15 cities is where a local non-profit is contracted to drive to areas frequented by panhandlers and offer them day labor, such as landscape beautification and garbage removal — or even homeless camp cleanup. This reminds them of the dignity and pride of what it is like to earn a paycheck, and has proven to be a catalyst for real change (in one city alone, this program has directly contributed to over 70 full time jobs and dramatically reduced panhandling). Another program works with specific businesses to offer incentives to hire people experiencing homelessness.

As the plan is drafted, I will be inviting the Citrus Heights community to give me feedback so the best possible plan can be put forward for possible funding. I want to hear from everyone, so that it isn’t just political leaders and staff who have a say in the process.

Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost formerly served as a Citrus Heights councilwoman and currently represents District 4, which includes Citrus Heights. Frost will hold her next community meeting on Mar. 15 at 6 p.m., in the conference room of city hall, located at 6360 Fountain Square Drive. She can be contacted at (916) 874-5491, or

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