Helping Others

Funding for Placer County 24-hour homeless shelter approved despite residents’ pleas

Placer County officials approved funding on Tuesday for a controversial homeless shelter in north Auburn, despite concerns from nearby residents who packed the meeting, claiming the shelter increases crime.

After three hours of testimony and debate, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to push forward with a $265,000 subsidy for the facility that was opened in June by the nonprofit Right Hand Auburn. Jim Holmes, the supervisor who represents the area, cast the dissenting vote.

I’m not going to start throwing county dollars at it. It’s caused more problems than it solved.

Lone dissenter Supervisor Jim Holmes, on why he voted against the shelter funding

Tuesday’s move is unprecedented in the fiscally conservative county, which has long relied on a network of churches and grass-roots organizations to feed and house the homeless.

Right Hand Auburn had used private donations from businesses and community members to run the shelter but sought public funds in August after running into financial troubles. To date, the group has raised about $280,000 but is expected to spend $334,000 through the end of October operating the 47-person shelter in an old Army barracks owned by the county. Several of the nonprofit’s leaders took out personal loans to cover the balance, said Brigit Barnes, the nonprofit’s president.

The shelter currently opens from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., but will become a 24/7 facility in November. An overflow room for 28 people will bring night-time occupancy to 75. Barnes said the shelter turns away about five people each night.

Barnes said initial construction and food preparation costs blew their budget.

“That’s why we realized we had to have government support to go to the next step,” she said.

Holmes, who has received an earful from constituents regarding the shelter, criticized Right Hand officials for resorting to county support after earlier pledging to run the facility independently. He called that plan “wishful thinking.”

“How are you going to be able to sustain that type of involvement?” Holmes asked Barnes. “Now you’re coming to us to spend $265,000 to keep your program going.”

The longtime supervisor and Auburn native added, “I’m not going to start throwing county dollars at it. It’s caused more problems than it solved.”

Taxpayer dollars will cover operational costs as well as a one-time $40,000 site upgrade. The funds are expected to last through March, when the nonprofit’s rent-free lease expires. It is unclear what will happen when the agreement expires, but county officials have said they are searching for a permanent shelter location.

Several dozen people packed the board room in Auburn on Tuesday, and at least 30 people spoke during public comment, mostly against the proposals. Mothers told tales of being threatened by homeless people and brought their babies to drive home the point.

Scott Holbrook, a neighbor and board member for the Auburn Recreation District, said the shelter contributed to the increased transient population.

“We have more and more problems than ever in our north Auburn communities,” he said.

The Placer County Sheriff’s Office has responded to 12 calls for service at the homeless shelter since it opened. Calls related to homeless people in general have increased for north Auburn in the last year, but they are not specifically tied to the shelter, said sheriff’s Lt. Troy Minton-Sander.

Resident Heather Ireland spoke in favor of the shelter and appealed to the consciences of the supervisors.

“They have no place to go,” she said. “You see them lying in bushes because there is no bed. A human being cannot simply vaporize and disappear.”

The shelter costs about $33,000 to operate each month, which will increase to $70,000 in November when hours and capacity are expanded.

Richard Chang: 916-321-1018, @RichardYChang