The Beginning of the End for Sacramento Self-Help Housing

Human impacts deepened as SSHH’s problems accelerated

PUBLISHED MAR 27, 2024 11:21 A.M.
Share this:  
Kimbley Browning and her son Ronnie photographed at Camp Resolution in 2023.

Kimbley Browning and her son Ronnie photographed at Camp Resolution in 2023.   Graham Womack

Sacramento County, like other parts of California, has grappled with crisis levels of people experiencing homelessness in recent years. This is the fourth part in an investigative series on the collapse of Sacramento Self-Help Housing, which once excelled at getting people off the streets. The organization closed and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May 2023. Catch up: part I, part II and part III.

In better times, before Kimbley Browning and her son Ronnie wound up living under tarping at a north Sacramento homeless encampment, Kimbley recalls that there were three years that they rented an apartment with the help of Sacramento Self-Help Housing.

They had lived at The Eleven Hundred, Kimbley says. This 545-unit complex at 1100 Howe Avenue used to house people who received assistance from Sacramento Self-Help Housing (SSHH) through funding sources such as Sacramento County’s property related tenant services, or PRTS program, in its flexible housing pool.

But at some point, Kimbley says, she learned everyone would have to move because rent was being raised. And in October 2022, they had to leave The Eleven Hundred. Kimbley and her son briefly wound up in shared housing, where living conditions could be dicey. SSHH helped hundreds of people a year who’d experienced homelessness, with the organization priding itself on helping hard-to-serve clients get off the streets.

Eventually, Kimbley and Ronnie each got fed up. Kimbley says people were using her bathroom and that there was drug use among other people in the home. She balked at a curfew at the second shared housing location she lived in, as it was close to the time she got off work. Ronnie, meanwhile, struggled with program rules. So they each left shared housing in November 2022.

During the summer of 2023, they lived at Camp Resolution, a legal encampment in north Sacramento that now faces the threat of closure. Tarping covered a car Kimbley was sleeping in and a tent Ronnie was sleeping in.

Kimbley says that during the three years they had lived in their apartment, they were happy. “We were hella happy,” she says. “Now, we’re miserable.”

Problems with the PRTS Program

SSHH provided housing to formerly-homeless individuals through a wide assortment of programs. A June 2023 filing from SSHH’s bankruptcy noted that it still owed around $250,000 to The Eleven Hundred, a reminder of problems the nonprofit had in recent years.

SSHH’s 2022 tax filing noted it had established the PRTS program with Sacramento County to serve people who had been jailed or used behavioral health services. It was hoped the program could serve 400 households by 2022. Ethan Evans, a CSU Sacramento professor who joined SSHH’s board in 2019, says things went from bad to worse.

“It was a loser program that kept on losing,” Evans said. “The idea was to shadow something from LA that took the hardest to house, no matter what. And in Sac County, they never funded it appropriately. And then they lost their stomach for it and more or less stuck it with the nonprofits who are dumb enough to say ‘yes’ to doing it.”

The PRTS program grew to more than 250 participants by the end of 2020, according to SSHH’s 2022 tax filing.

As reported in part III of this series, which detailed SSHH’s longstanding financial challenges, Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance Director Ethan Dye informed longtime SSHH CEO John Foley on June 28, 2022 that SSHH was in breach of contract for the PRTS program. SSHH was falling behind on making rental payments for this program and had recently held a meeting with county staff to discuss growing numbers of tenants getting three-day quit notices on their doors.

Foley and Dye soon resolved the breach, which paved the way for SSHH’s PRTS contract to wrap up at the end of 2022.

The county went back and forth about whether or not to do evictions related to the PRTS program, at one point compiling a list of around a dozen people to be evicted, according to Foley, who gave several interviews for this series. He added that in December 2022, the county backed off. (Dye didn’t respond to an interview request, with his correspondence with SSHH in its final years obtained through a public records request.)

Foley said the county tried to start making payments directly to The Eleven Hundred. In November 2022, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved retroactively giving about $370,000 to the complex “to prevent up to 32 participant households from imminent risk of returning to homelessness,” per a staff report. This payment, Foley said, was about “trying to get caught up on the rent.”

The complex resisted accepting direct payments from the county, according to Foley, because change was in the air.

KF Properties, Inc. purchased The Eleven Hundred from OpenPath Investments for $119 million in September 2022. The complex—whose management and current and former ownership didn’t reply to requests for comment—averages a 1.3-star rating on Yelp, with reviewers complaining about unsanitary living conditions and crime.

Foley said he thinks The Eleven Hundred’s new ownership wanted to be rid of people living at the complex who had received assistance from SSHH.

Meanwhile, California’s pandemic-era moratorium on evictions was ending for most people. Rough times for SSHH and the people it once helped lay ahead.

Displacement with the PRTS Program

Sacramento-based Consumers Self-Help Center (CSHC) became the county’s provider for the PRTS program at the beginning of 2023. By that March, a county spokesperson wrote that fewer than 40 people were using the program. That month, the county also announced it wouldn’t be renewing its contracts with SSHH. The board of supervisors approved $1.7 million in funding to help keep people housed, including $700,000 to the flexible housing pool, which included the PRTS program.

Tiffany Murphy, executive director for CSHC, said her organization continues to operate the PRTS program. Asked if she knew of anyone going homeless from the PRTS program even before CSHC took over the contract, she said she couldn’t speak to details about different clients.

“Our focus mainly has been to ensure that if there were any gaps in services or missed needs or … people hadn’t had resources, too, that we've been doing our due diligence with connecting people with that,” Murphy said.

Sacramento County Department of Homeless Services and Housing Director Emily Halcon appeared to reference the PRTS program in June 2023, saying the county had a contract end at the end of 2022 and that some people moved around as a result. A county spokesperson subsequently declined to provide estimates of how many people were displaced or made homeless.

Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, who served on SSHH’s board in the 2000s, said he had “no real concerns” related to the county’s administration of the PRTS program.

“I will tell you that the worst-case scenario is somebody gets put out on the street,” Kennedy said. “We do everything we can to ensure that doesn't happen, whether it's through housing choice vouchers, or our hotel-motel programs, even if it's temporary so that we can secure more permanent housing. And of course we have more shelter beds coming online all the time.”

He added, “We made every concerted effort in all of these programs to ensure that people who are currently housed will maintain housing of one way or another.”

Still, all of this might not have been enough to keep a bleak situation from quietly transpiring at The Eleven Hundred.

Jeremy Baird worked for SSHH for a decade, serving as its final interim CEO until the organization shuttered. Baird said approximately 50 people at The Eleven Hundred were facing eviction when SSHH went out of business in May 2023. Asked if anyone had gone homeless or wound up in a shelter due to SSHH’s issues with the PRTS program, Baird replied, “I'm sure they did. But I wasn't directly involved in that project.”

There’ve been at least 26 eviction efforts at The Eleven Hundred since 2022, according to sheriff or court records. Five people told California Local they sought help from a different organization prior to their evictions. Three other people said they didn’t get help. Requests for comment left for nine households weren’t immediately returned. Messages couldn’t be left for the remaining households, who either didn’t have listed numbers or were otherwise unreachable.

No evictions since 2022 at The Eleven Hundred could be definitively tied to SSHH. This wouldn’t include people like Kimbley Browning, who said she and her son were displaced from the complex and moved to housing they each found intolerable and soon left.

Through its different programs, SSHH was providing housing to 824 people at the beginning of 2022, per its most recent tax filing. As covered in part I of this series, precise numbers of people who lost their housing through the different stages of SSHH’s collapse might never be known, though the number might be as high as 100 individuals.

Cascading Issues

On Oct. 8, 2022, SSHH endured tragedy. Antonio Manning, 60, leader of an SSHH house at 6321 Whitecliff Way in North Highlands was shot and killed. His alleged assailant, Michael Bell, 36 at the time, had recently been released from prison and was being allowed to stay at the house, where his grandmother lived. Bell remains in custody at the Sacramento County Main Jail, facing charges of murder and resisting arrest.

Foley remembered his former house leader as someone who “had a good way with people, good personality.”

Around this time, SSHH was also waiting on receiving $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding that it won tentative approval of from the county in mid-2022. Part III of this series detailed why these funds would never arrive. Complaints about SSHH not paying rent also kept coming in, with Dye emailing Foley as late as midday on Jan. 9, 2023 to check on a claim.

Hours later that day, SSHH’s board met. Longtime SSHH board chair Ted Cobb, who is Foley’s cousin, stepped down as chair but kept a board seat. The board placed Foley on leave, which ended his tenure with SSHH. “I think it was mostly a matter of transparency that John was trying so hard to make things work that he wasn't really as open with the board as he could have been in terms of how bad it was,” Cobb said.

Robert Spurlock soon stepped in as interim CEO. He departed near the end of March 2023 as news broke that the county was ending its scattered-site shelter contract with SSHH and that the nonprofit’s board had voted to close the organization.

After Spurlock, it was Baird’s turn as interim CEO. Baird served until he closed the office for good, with the organization filing for bankruptcy shortly thereafter. Roughly 32 staffers had remained, Baird said, when he went around to distribute final paychecks. They had helped keep hundreds of people from going homeless with SSHH’s collapse.

For months as they lived at Camp Resolution, Kimbley and Ronnie Browning worked with CSHC staff to try to find housing. Efforts were complicated by Kimbley wanting a yard for her dogs. They finally got a house last October. Several months later, Kimbley and Ronnie stood outside their front door, on a quiet north Sacramento street.

To 35-year-old Ronnie, the new house is no big thing to him.

“As long as she’s happy, I’m happy,” Ronnie said.

Kimbley, 56, is aglow about her house.

“I love it,” Kimbley said. “I wake up happy every morning.”

Coming next: After Sacramento Self-Help Housing – What Happens Now

Support California Local

$10 • $25 • $50 • Our Impact
News & Analysis

Breaking news article about a local or state topic.

This article is tagged with:
Join Us Today!