SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — The Sacramento County grand jury is criticizing county officials' response to homelessness in recent reports, describing the county as having "an almost endless array of boards and commissions."
Made up of civilian watchdogs, the grand jury also says its investigation observed political infighting between the city and county with the absence of a comprehensive plan.
"When it comes to the battle to conquer mental illness and substance abuse among the homeless, the County is clearly 'active,'" said foreperson Norval Wellsfry. "Lots of meetings. Lots of plans. Lots of public concern. Real achievement, however and unfortunately, remains an illusion."
The grand jury report says the county has too many boards and committees centered around homelessness, and the groups often don't communicate.
California state legislators responded Wednesday to the first grand jury report by proposing a countywide authority to address homelessness known as a Joint Powers Authority (JPA). It was one of the grand jury's recommendations.
It would be made up of six elected officials: one from Sacramento County, one from the city of Sacramento, and then one each from Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom and Rancho Cordova.
"We've never had a response like that come from state officials. The first step to change is getting elected [officials] to speak with each other," Wellsfry told ABC10. "If they just create an organization and don't sit on the board, they're dodging responsibility."
Executive director of the nonprofit Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness Bob Erlenbusch said county supervisors considered forming a JPA in 2010.
The idea was dropped when both city and county officials designated the nonprofit Sacramento Steps Forward as the lead agency to receive federal funds for fighting homelessness.
"Having a Joint Powers Authority rather than having a couple different entities would provide a more unified regional response," Erlenbusch said.
As for the grand jury's 10 remaining recommendations? They say Sacramento County should develop a plan with specific goals and outcomes to address unhoused residents dealing with mental illness or substance abuse.
Between 50-80% of unhoused Sacramento County residents deal with mental illness or substance abuse.
County spokesperson Janna Haynes says behavioral health and substance abuse disorder services are addressed in the county's 2022 Local Homeless Action Plan (LHAP).
Homelessness went up more than 250% countywide since 2018, according to the grand jury.
"Virtually none of the county homelessness response leadership has elected officials, but we're hoping that will change," said Wellsfry. "Executive leadership is needed to ensure policies and plans get implemented."
Haynes says the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors' recent AT HOME plan was developed by the California State Association of Counties.
The plan is a multi-county effort to establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability between the state and local governments to help coordinate strategies for services and funding.
"By integrating action steps and metrics for a comprehensive roadmap, the County aims to achieve change while promoting accountability," Haynes told ABC10. "Cross-sector collaboration and collective support is the most effective way to care for people who need it most."