Bee Opinionated: Why Sacramento is struggling with youth services

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Council Member Jay Schenirer laughs after telling a joke during the Sac Kids First press conference on Monday, June 13, 2022 at the Mack Road Valley Hi Community Center in Sacramento. City leaders announced a new initiative to create a children’s fund for the city of Sacramento through a measure to be placed on the November 2022 ballot.

snevis@sacbee.com

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Good Sunday, Sacramento. This is Youssef Baiggiving Robin Epley a well-deserved respite from newsletter duties.

There are grudges between city leaders and the nonprofit sector right now. I want to explain why. It starts with a bit of recent history.

Arden Fair Shopping Center has been notorious for huge fights breaking out especially during the holiday season. In 2018, they came to a head when hundreds of Sacramento-area youths staged multiple scrums in the span of a week, prompting a major law enforcement response and a decision by mall officials to close the mall early.

City leaders and several non-profit organizations got together and began hosting pop-up events for different age groups and neighborhoods, featuring everything from video games and basketball to volunteer opportunities and job fairs. The idea was to host these weekend pop-ups in underserved areas of the city to give children access to more rewarding alternatives.

In 2019, the city decided to fund pop-ups in six-month cycles with Sierra Health Foundation as the main sponsor and administrator of 22 other organizations that hosted them. The program was a success by all accounts, and apparently no fights were reported at the mall last year.

But happy marriages between public agencies and nonprofits are rare. Earlier this month, City Manager Howard Chan unexpectedly pulled out of the deal with Sierra Health, forcing at least four organizations to cancel pop-ups over the July 4 weekend. The fallout has caused consternation in the Sacramento nonprofit sector and searing missives from both sides.

City Spokesperson Tim Swanson said Sierra Health failed to meet strict reporting requirements under its contract, prompting the city to decide not to pursue another round with the “demonstrably non-compliant” foundation. In a July 12 letter to the city, the CEO of Sierra Health Chet Hewitt pushed back against the allegations, detailing data that Chan’s office said was missing, and accused the city of undermining the program. Hewitt pointed to the city’s decision to change the funding source to the COVID Relief Fund, which added new protocols that some of the smaller nonprofits have struggled to learn.

The city is now opting to take over the $1.3 million program, a move that keeps it alive but could result in fewer participating nonprofits and fewer pop-ups as a result. Many nonprofit leaders expressed outrage at the city’s decision, though some of the statements seemed more concerned about whether cutting ties with Sierra Health would mean the end of the program altogether. . Fortunately, this is not the case.

The dispute illustrates how well the city has provided services to youth over time and the inadequate system for funding and operating local programs. Sacramento has created an environment where supporting anything seems impossible. Most programs are built on short-term grants like pop-ups are, and clearly funding sources can change whenever bureaucrats see fit.

All of this plays into the latest youth-focused tax measure that the Sacramento City Council approved for the November ballot. If voters support it, the city would essentially spend 40% of cannabis revenue — about $10 million a year — to pay for services for young people who can disrupt generational difficulties.

The merits of the measure are certainly up for debate, especially with city officials predicting a budget deficit two years from now. But given the rise in violent crime, poverty and mental health issues facing our children, you can’t argue with the need to do more.

Remember to stay hydrated

Youssef Baig

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Yousef Baig is The Bee’s Associate Opinion Editor and covers a variety of local and state issues for the Editorial Board. He previously worked at The Press Democrat, Petaluma Argus-Courier and Napa Valley Register. He is the eldest son of Pakistani immigrants, originally from Atlanta and proud alumnus of the University of Georgia.

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