City, legislature need to act on climate danger to unhoused Sacramento residents

May 8, 2023

Blazing heat waves and atmospheric rivers are here to stay in the Sacramento area. 

According to a 2022 study conducted by Science Advances, climate change has dramatically increased the possibility of catastrophic flooding in California. Meanwhile, Sacramento County has nearly 9,300 unhoused people left to fend for themselves in increasingly dangerous weather. 

There is no legislation in place in Sacramento to provide a viable solution for the housing crisis. Measure O, a Sacramento city ordinance passed during the last election cycle by a four-point margin (52%-48%), is also known as the Emergency Shelter and Enforcement Act of 2022. However, Measure O does not adequately protect the unhoused from suffering harm in weather-related disasters. 

Intense flooding and increasingly severe storms have deadly consequences. On Jan. 11, the Sacramento Bee reported that at least two unhoused people had been killed by falling trees as a result of the weekend storms. These preventable deaths are extremely concerning, as government agencies put in place to help prevent these tragedies were unable to provide any support for these unhoused individuals.

The housing crisis needs to be addressed, a view shared by local high school students. In a survey of 30 students conducted by Sacramento School Beat at Mira Loma High School, the respondents unanimously agreed that housing was a problem that needs to be addressed in Sacramento County. Sacramento Steps Forward, a non-profit organization, has documented the county’s unhoused population increased by 67% from 2019 to 2022, totaling 9,278 in the group’s 2022 point-in-time survey. 

Anna Hall, a senior at Mira Loma High School, was one of the students surveyed about the housing crisis. 

“I think homelessness is an issue that needs to be addressed because there are millions of Americans just standing outside in the streets,” she said. “They don’t have access to shelters, food and water. With the ever-changing climate, homeless people are unproportionally affected. … So I think that if they were to have access to those resources and knowledge of the changing parameters, it would benefit them greatly.”

Because of the housing crisis ongoing in Sacramento, the unhoused have been especially impacted by the changing climate the community currently faces. Some steps have been taken by the city, though it is far from enough. Flooding is already becoming an even greater risk in the valley, as sea levels are rising and atmospheric rivers are becoming more prevalent. 

Heat strokes are also increasingly dangerous for individuals unable to find shelter to stay away from the scorching sun. Climate change has caused temperatures in Sacramento to rise rapidly. By 2050, Sacramento can expect to see an annual average of 15 days a year when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees, compared to an average of four days between 1961 and 1990. 

The best solution to protect the unhoused from the life-threatening effects of climate change is to pass legislation to establish permanent funding to assist the homeless in direct response to dangerous weather. Climate change and the consequent weather shifts are now our lived reality. Currently, the city of Sacramento only has temporary funds to help the unhoused for emergency purposes. We need to do more. 

Permanent money can be used to address heat waves by paying for cooling centers, public transportation, and free cold water and groceries. Regarding atmospheric storms, the funds can support the building of more shelters and help community centers stay open longer. 

By doing so, we will be better able to help these underserved communities. 


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