Brooke Stephens envisions the Campus of Hope as a one-stop shop for homeless services – a place to live, mental health help, job training and even a cafeteria.
It’s a vision in its earliest stages. Stephens’ group, Placer Rescue Mission, is studying an 8-acre plot of land in south Placer County. But the incipient plan has already drawn the ire of some south Placer residents who believe the proposal is oversized and would draw homeless people from throughout the region to their streets.
Though no official proposal has gone before the county’s Board of Supervisors, initial plans call for a 231-bed campus across from the Santucci Justice Center in the unincorporated county west of Rocklin’s city border. The beds would be located in micro-units of housing, interim housing, a mental health unit and recovery treatment beds. A Placer count in January found 663 homeless people throughout the county.
“A lot of what we’ve heard (in opposition), there seems to be a lot of misinformation out there,” Stephens said. “Some of the things they’ve taken issue with are things we won’t be doing or aren’t the way we’re set up.”
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She refuted arguments that the campus would draw homeless people from outside Placer County. A report commissioned by the county in 2015 found 82 percent of homeless people surveyed became homeless while living in Placer County and 50 percent had family in the county.
“There’s going to be a residency requirement,” she said. “We’re looking to help the local residents ... not a transient homeless population.”
Rocklin resident Kyle Stansel, who is mobilizing opposition, said it only takes 15 days for someone to be considered a resident of Placer County to get services such as cash aid.
“Our fear is that it will eventually turn into a mega-center that will draw people from across California,” he said.
Stephens said Placer Rescue Mission has not yet defined residency requirements, as the group is still in the early stages of planning.
Placer County will contribute $44,000 toward the feasibility study when it’s completed. Director of Public Works and Facilities Ken Grehm said whatever happens with Placer Rescue Mission’s project, the county wants to know what its options are for the site, a former wastewater pond area.
Stansel said he’d like to see Placer Rescue Mission consider other locations and reduce the number of beds. A consultant in 2015 recommended that the county consider two smaller, come-as-you-are shelters for adult single men and women instead of a regional facility.
“We’re not heartless, we want to help the homeless, but there also has to be a location that fits the population,” Stansel said. Opponents have created a website to rally the community, complete with photos of homeless encampments and testimonials from concerned residents. A change.org petition against the facility had 2,160 signatures as of noon on Thursday.
Placer County residents have opposed a project aimed at helping the homeless before. A temporary 100-bed shelter in a county-owned building in north Auburn drew a flurry of opposition from residents who felt the location was too close to neighborhoods.
The shelter opened in June 2015 with 47 beds and limited hours after a group of concerned local residents formed a nonprofit and pitched the idea to the Board of Supervisors, said Jeff Brown, head of Placer’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Volunteers of America runs the shelter and Leo McFarland, head of VOA operations in Northern California and Nevada, said local residents are still involved with day-to-day operations because the facility does not have a commercial kitchen. Churches, civic groups and business groups sign up to provide meals for shelter residents on a rotating basis.
“I just want to champion the effort that the faith community did and all the slings and arrows they had to put up with to make this happen, all the political capital they used,” he said.
Eventually the shelter expanded to 100 beds open 24 hours throughout the week and had its authorization extended by the board. It’s a clean and sober facility; shelter director Beth Valentine said residents are breathalyzed every time they enter the building. The first day the sober requirement was introduced, only two people failed the test, she said, showing that guests were committed enough to the program to forgo alcohol. The shelter is connected to recovery organizations in the county.
Brown pointed to the January one-night count of homeless individuals that showed the number of unsheltered people dropped below 50 percent of the overall homeless population as evidence the shelter is making a difference.
Similar to the shelter, Placer Rescue Mission’s plan sprung from a group of concerned residents, rather than from county staff. The group of like-minded business people concerned about the local rate of chronically homeless people has been around for two years, Stephens said.
In the last few years, Placer County has expanded services to homeless people, such as buying permanent supportive housing for mentally ill people and prioritizing homeless people for federal housing vouchers. The county applied for and received a Whole Person Care grant, federal money administered by the state to help keep homeless people out of emergency rooms.
Advocates say finding affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges for keeping people off the streets. Communities throughout California lack affordable housing, and Placer County has a vacancy rate under 1.65 percent, Brown said.
“Some people are on extremely low income and there are very few places to rent,” said Leslie Brewer, director of advocacy services for Placer Independent Resource Services. PIRS works with people with disabilities, mental or physical, so they see a lot of homeless clients. Everyone is competing for the small amount of rental housing available in the county.
“Landlords get to pick the cream of the crop,” she said.
Jennifer Price, CEO of Advocates for Mentally Ill Housing, said her programs have an occupancy rate over 96 percent and a full waiting list. She said the willingness of Placer residents to help the homeless varies.
“It depends on where you look,” Price said. “People who are volunteering for churches, social services and nonprofits seem happy to help and make a difference. ... If you look on social media, you see a wide range of opinions.”