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Citrus Heights homeless community reacts to navigator’s departure

Scotty Summerfield, a homeless man living in Citrus Heights, talks with The Sentinel during a May 2023 interview. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
Members of the homeless community in Citrus Heights are voicing concerns after a decision by the county prompted the pending closure of Sacramento Self Help Housing, the nonprofit organization that provided navigator services to people experiencing homelessness.

Related: Citrus Heights homeless navigator in limbo after nonprofit closure

Citrus Heights resident Alfred Sanchez, an advocate for area homeless, said services provided by navigators Gabby Yost and Yvette Horst have been vital to people living in local parks and streets. Sanchez said hundreds of people could be impacted by the absence of navigator services.

“I would even think to myself, what if one day that navigator just quit? Everybody’s going to be left out,” he said. “They didn’t quit, they’re not going to be here anymore so it’s going to be a mad scramble.”

One formerly homeless woman helping distribute meals to individuals at a weekly lunch held behind Costco said the navigator program helped her find housing after decades living on the street. The navigator provides transportation and help with applications for various forms of assistance, she said.

“She gives us rides, she gives us clothes, food, she makes appointments with us,” the woman said of the local navigator. “There’s going to be a lot more homeless people if you cut the program. A lot more.”

While the services have benefited many people in the area, some say more needs to be done. Homeless veteran Scotty Summerfield said efforts by SSHH were not effective.

“As far as the self-help, it’s a load of crap,” Summerfield said. “I hate to say that, but it really is not helpful. [They] give just 1,500 people (housing) vouchers. Me and my wife needed one so badly when we found out about it. She was so sick. We were heartbroken. They throw money away.”

Summerfield’s wife, Candy Brown, died of cardiac arrest last August, according to a previous report by The Sentinel. Brown had been diagnosed with heart failure while living homeless, Summerfield said. Citrus Heights Police Officer Joseph Spurlin twice revived Brown during the incident and was recognized for his life-saving efforts.

From last year: Citrus Heights officer commended for attempting to save homeless woman’s life

Assistance programs are often ineffective because the individuals they aim to help are unable or unwilling to meet requirements, Summerfield said. Mistrust of police and other officials among people experiencing homelessness contributes to the lack of participation, he said.

Sacramento County announced in a March 29 release that it would not renew contracts with Sacramento Self Help Housing (SSHH) due to what the county said was “significant financial issues at SSHH.” As previously reported by The Sentinel, that move prompted the organization to plan closure at the end of June.

In a prior interview, Navigator Gabriella Yost said she was working with 150 clients. Additionally, Citrus Heights HART had helped 42 individuals obtain transitional housing in the last four months, she said.

In a March 29 interview on the Pat Walsh Show, SSHH Chairman Ethan Evans called the reasons behind the closure “complex,” citing rapid growth in the organization’s budget In recent years.

SSHH was founded by John Foley about 20 years ago as an outgrowth of Loaves and Fishes, the organization that serves meals and offers assistance to homeless residents in downtown Sacramento. The organization had garnered praise from community leaders in the last two decades, but Foley recently left the organization for unconfirmed reasons, according to a Jan. 18 report by the Sacramento Bee that raised questions about missing financial audits and evictions of tenants by SSHH.

City spokeswoman Meghan Huber told The Sentinel last month that the Navigator Program “is an important tool in the city’s effort to connect our unhoused individuals with the resources they need to find housing and services.” She said the city is “actively evaluating opportunities to continue the Navigator program through other provider options and exploring all available opportunities.”

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