Helping Others

Auburn shelter wins lease extension, hopes for funding

In June 2015, Robert Creighton prepares to do his laundry at the homeless shelter that opened in Auburn, Calif.
In June 2015, Robert Creighton prepares to do his laundry at the homeless shelter that opened in Auburn, Calif.

The lease for a temporary homeless shelter created by Auburn-area homeless advocates was extended by Placer County officials this week, but advocates say they won’t be able to continue to run the facility without public funds.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to allow the facility to continue operating for another nine months. The shelter, run by nonprofit Right Hand Auburn and backed by the Rev. Mike Carroll of St. Teresa’s Church, began serving the Auburn area’s homeless in June on a 90-day trial basis.

In recent years, the city of Auburn and unincorporated north Auburn have seen an increase in the homeless, who number around several dozen. Advocates earlier this year pushed the five-member county board to open an old Army barracks at the government center as an emergency shelter.

Supervisors on Tuesday denied a request by Right Hand Auburn for more than $300,000 in county support, but the board instructed county staff to return in about a month with recommendations on possible funding. The county does not charge the organization rent.

“I’ve been skeptical,” said Supervisor Jim Holmes. “I knew this was going to come back to us in this form – them asking for county financial assistance.”

The nonprofit so far has relied on private donations to renovate and run the shelter.

“Right Hand Auburn has already raised $190,000,” said Brigit Barnes, the nonprofit’s president. “They’ve given us the physical authorization. But without contribution from the county, we can’t swing the whole thing.”

In addition to the lease renewal, the county granted requests to expand the capacity and hours of operation. The shelter will be allowed to run 24 hours a day with about 90 occupants, roughly double the current capacity. The shelter currently operates from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The 24-hour shelter will do a “better job of containing any detrimental impacts that might currently exist under the current operation,” said Supervisor Kirk Uhler, the board’s chairman.

Uhler emphasized that officials are working to determine a location for a permanent shelter. Placer County does not have an official homeless shelter. The fiscally conservative county has long relied on a network of churches to feed and house the homeless.

Barnes said the emergency shelter has had tremendous success and is full on most nights.

The shelter costs roughly $30,000 to operate each month, which includes money for food and staff, according to Barnes. A fundraiser for Right Hand Auburn has been scheduled for Sept. 10 at the Ridge golf course in Auburn.

On Tuesday, a parade of speakers appeared before the Board of Supervisors, with some neighbors voicing concern about security. Others said the shelter is keeping the homeless off the streets.

Holmes, whose district includes the shelter, said he has received an earful from constituents about safety.

Dena Erwin, spokeswoman for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, said she wasn’t aware of any disturbances at the facility. Deputies responded there twice since the shelter’s opening, both times because occupants didn’t want to leave, according to Erwin.

As far as the shelter’s impact on crime, Erwin couldn’t give a definitive answer because the Sheriff’s Office is still tallying the data to compare with years prior.

Still, it appeared that the shelter, along with tougher restrictions and an education campaign for local residents to not give money, has reduced the number of homeless loitering in north Auburn. Panhandlers who only months ago sat on curbs were hard to find Wednesday.

An ordinance banning unauthorized camping on county-owned land went into effect Aug. 6.

On Wednesday, Lisia Steel-Funk, 33, was picking up bottles outside the CVS store in north Auburn. Steel-Funk, who has been homeless for several years, said she has not used the emergency shelter.

“Some of us just want to be out with nature,” she said. “For some reason, society wants to be ashamed of homeless. They make people feel like God’s earth is not ours.”

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