Davis considers proposal for homeless lockers

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 8:46 am

For about eight years, Lawson Snipes has been advocating for a place where the homeless in Davis could store their belongings in lockers while at work or a job interview.

And now, it appears the proposal is gaining momentum.

Advocates are currently in talks with city staff, Snipes said. And members of the Davis City Council said the idea to create a set of lockers, which could be used by the homeless under certain conditions, might be discussed as soon as tonight's City Council meeting – its first session after summer recess.

"It's definitely on people's radar now," said Dan Wolk, mayor pro tem in Davis. "It's my impression that because this issue is now on people's minds, and the council's mind, I wouldn't be surprised if at our first meeting, during our discussion of future agenda items, we add this on."

Snipes is the founder of a nonprofit street publication, produced by members of the greater Yolo County homeless community, called the Spare Changer. He is also homeless himself.

According to Snipes, it is tough to ace a job interview or perform well at work when you're worrying about the safety of your possessions.

The alternative, carrying all the possessions with you, is not much better, Snipes said.

"If someone is really trying to get ahead, how are you going to do that with all your stuff in a backpack on your back?" Snipes said.

For this reason, Snipes said, he approached Davis Community Church with his proposal for a locker program in 2005.

The Rev. Bill Habicht said that a church team explored Snipes' proposal, and eventually decided to move forward with the project. By 2007, church members, with help from a local shop class, had built roughly 20 custom, wooden lockers. The church intended to keep the lockers in one of its storage sheds for the homeless to use.

"What we were looking at was not a free-for-all locker system," Habicht said. "It was intended for individuals who were looking to work and were homeless, or were working and still living homeless."

Property owners near the church effectively halted the program before its launch.

Habicht said neighbors became concerned that, with the locker program, there would be too high of a concentration of homeless services in the area. The church already ran a brown-bag lunch service and a shelter program for the homeless, he said.

Davis Community Church and the Davis City Council signed a memorandum of understanding, which stopped the implementation of the locker program, Habicht said.

"We were trying to find common ground with nearby property owners," Habicht said.

Snipes said after the program was aborted in 2007, he decided that he would never make a proposal to the council members who had been involved with the memorandum of understanding.

Today, however, there has been a complete turnover on the council. "They're all gone now," Snipes said. "We have new people, and I believe they have a fresh look.

"I'm essentially asking the city to do what I couldn't do," he said. "There's a homeless population in Davis, and there's not some place for the homeless people who are trying to get ahead."

In the last several weeks, Snipes has submitted a letter and a DVD copy of a documentary titled "Lockers: The City of Davis Lockers for the Homeless Project" to each council member.

Independent Davis filmmaker Rich Sequest produced the documentary. He said the film is made up of both new footage shot in the last month, and footage he had accumulated over the years as a member of Davis Media Access.

About 115 individuals are homeless in Davis on any given day, Sequest said.

"With the lockers, if that comes to fruition, that's another step along the way to solving the problem because one person who is homeless is one too many," Sequest said.

Wolk, echoing the statements of other council members contacted, called Snipes' proposal a "wonderful idea." He said, however, the main issue that will need to be resolved is a location for the storage facility.

Wolk said the main questions right now include: "Are the neighbors comfortable with the lockers? Is there a private entity or nonprofit that would be interested in hosting them? If not, is this something that the city could do on one of its properties?"

Wolk said none of these issues is insurmountable.

Habicht said the church can no longer commit its shed to the locker program, as it is currently figuring out a new use for the space. He added, however, that the church would be pleased to donate the wooden lockers if a new location is chosen.

According to Snipes, the question of location is a familiar one.

"Everyone will tell you this is a great idea," Snipes said. "It's another thing to say, 'Put it right next door to me.' "

Call The Bee's Kurt Chirbas, (916) 321-1030.

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