The lawn outside the Placer County Government Center is a popular spot for the neighborhood’s homeless. A camp stove, an office chair and piles of tarp-covered belongings are scattered on the ground – signs of a well-established transient community.
Soon, its inhabitants may be able to take a short walk across the parking lot to sleep in Placer County’s first formal homeless shelter.
The shelter, which will be converted from former military barracks into housing for 40 people each night, will be the first building in the county dedicated for the purpose. The 4-0 vote to approve the project comes at a time of need for the county, where the number of people classified as “chronic homeless” has more than tripled since 2007, according to the Placer Consortium on Homelessness.
The board on Tuesday approved a temporary conditional use permit, which will allow the county-owned property, not currently zoned for use as a shelter, to function that way for up to one year. The intent is to start with a 90-day pilot program that would be open from evening until morning seven nights per week, said Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery. The shelter will also provide showers, bathrooms and hot meals for its guests.
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The project will be funded and managed by local nonprofit Right Hand Auburn, Inc.The group, which plans to hire Volunteers of America to help operate the shelter, has been tasked with bringing back a proposed contract and building plans to the board for another vote by Feb. 24.
Once those plans are approved, the building – last used as a minimum security jail – will have to undergo about one week of remodeling to meet building codes, Montgomery said. Shortly after, it can open its doors to the many transients already populating the area.
“We’ve met all of our obligations and in fact surpassed them in terms of providing for the homeless,” she said. “But we wanted to go beyond and do what’s right, do the human thing. We need to serve the homeless population better while also protecting our neighbors and our employees.”
Many of the homeless who live on the county lawn spend their days between the Placer County Welcome Center, where they can access computers and other resources, and the various churches associated with The Gathering Inn, a nonprofit that manages a rotating network of overnight shelters for 60 to 70 people daily.
Lorelai Reed, 30, who has been homeless in Auburn for three years, said she would visit a shelter only as a last resort. Petting her canine companion Odin, she described feeling chastised and degraded when seeking help in the past.
“I don’t really need to be herded around like an animal or a piece of livestock,” she said. “I’m looking for work, my own dignity and liberty.”
At the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, public comments were made both by homeless people and by concerned Auburn residents living near the proposed shelter site.
“I believe this type of shelter will primarily house people with drug and alcohol addictions and that they will come from far and near to avail themselves of this free service,” said Barbara Sloan, who lives in Auburn. “The addicted homeless population, however, is often linked with a criminal element of burglary and vandalism that is necessary to support their addiction … Is this the type of activity that Auburn residents should be subjected to?”
The community’s concerns are understandable, said Montgomery. But she thinks having a building for the existing homeless population should improve the situation rather than make it worse.
“Creating this model where they’ve got a shelter, bathrooms, showers, will actually make things safer for the community,” she said. “Instead of having those folks scattered at night with no supervision, they’re in a much more formalized structure.”
Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636. Bee staff writer Ellen Garrison contributed to this report.