West Sacramento homeless get set to depart old motel as city prepares for development

Kurt Capozziello, 50, takes a moment with his dog, Scooby Doo, in front of Old Town Inn in West Sacramento.
Kurt Capozziello, 50, takes a moment with his dog, Scooby Doo, in front of Old Town Inn in West Sacramento. dvsmith@sacbee.com

The countdown had begun Wednesday at the Old Town Inn, the sign on the office window said.

Ten days left to go. Ten days before a pilot program providing temporary rooms, beds, training and counseling to West Sacramento’s homeless was to call it a night, making way for the city’s plans to tear down the old motor inn for new development at its downtown doorstep. The West Sacramento City Council on Wednesday approved $1.5 million in city funds to buy the motel and clear the site.

Bridge to Housing began at Old Town Inn in November, a joint four-month program between West Sacramento and Yolo County to temporarily house dozens of homeless residents and provide them with job training, mental health, drug and alcohol counseling, and other services. The program ends Feb. 28, at which point the inn is supposed to be vacated. Escrow is expected to close March 20.

Yolo County and West Sacramento officials say they have no plans to extend the program.

“The idea was to try the program, but put a termination date on it and learn from the experience,” said Martin Tuttle, West Sacramento city manager.

“By the 28th, we’re out of here completely. We’re just waiting,” Larry Wright, a Yolo County housing program manager, said Wednesday outside a motel room-turned-office, its door covered with handbills, phone numbers and ads for job training.

Old Town Inn, a short walk from City Hall on West Capitol Avenue, had long since seen better days. Trouble was a frequent tenant, police and firefighters were regular visitors.

The city sees the property as an important part of its Grand Gateway infill project situated between City Hall and the Tower Bridge. Plans are for mixed-use urban development and a public plaza on nearly 9 acres.

The project master plan was adopted in 2013, but West Sacramento had been working to remake the entry to its downtown for years before then. In 2007, the city bought and then demolished the notorious adult-oriented Experience Motel on West Capitol for $3 million, destroying it in almost-symbolic fashion by stuffing the rooms with bales of hay and wood pallets before setting it alight in a controlled burn.

The Grand Gateway area is envisioned as a link between the city’s downtown, Washington neighborhood and Bridge District. West Sacramento’s planned streetcar service also would run past the property.

“It’s a prime location within the city with its proximity to the streetcar, and it’s consistent with the efforts to remove blight on West Capitol,” Tuttle said, calling the proposed deal “a rare opportunity that surfaced.”

Wednesday was voucher day at the inn. In a couple hours’ time, more than 30 people plucked months ago from the banks and brush of the Sacramento River would receive the paperwork they needed to help find apartments and resources to get back on their feet.

“In West Sacramento, there are quite a few places they can go,” Wright said after a brief chat with a man folks at the inn call “Mr. Jimmy.”

One person had already moved out, another next door in No. 11 was waiting for keys to a new place. “I’m happy in one sense, sad in another. I made a lot of good friends here.”

With the vouchers come hope for a chance to make a life away from the river.

Ron Cleveland, 61, has been homeless for about nine years, the last five on the river, following a prison stretch and parole on drug charges.

“I got stuck here; stuck in Yolo County,” he said. “After I got out on parole, I never got a place.”

But Cleveland said he and girlfriend Mary Miller were among the first to sign up for the Bridge to Housing program in November.

“It helped us get a place,” Cleveland said. “I’m glad to move, but now I’ve got about 10 days to find a place.”

Yolo County officials say the program has made inroads toward addressing homelessness. In all, 31 people received housing vouchers. More than 8 in 10 have health insurance, up from roughly half at the program’s start, while 75 percent now receive CalFresh food stamp benefits, up from 49 percent when the program began in mid-November.

Others washed out for behavior problems or other issues. But caseworkers have been assigned to those still in the program and will continue to work with them once the pilot program ends, said Yolo County spokeswoman Beth Gabor. Finding homes for them is the next step.

Kurt Capozziello was waiting for his housing voucher with his dog Scooby Doo.

A 50-year-old transplant from Bridgeport, Conn., he has struggled with homelessness off and on through the past decade, most recently when the owners of his Sacramento house evicted him and sold the property last May. He operates heavy equipment by trade and hopes to get a license, find work and join a union – once he has a roof overhead.

He also hoped the city and county could find a way to extend Bridge to Housing.

“If it goes on, it would be a good thing. It’s hard (being homeless). I’ve seen people lose their minds – people who had something, then lost it, then they get lost in the sauce,” Capozziello said. “If someone’s in the weeds with no hope, no way to see the end of the tunnel, you get bogged down.”

On Wednesday, Capozziello hoped the housing voucher could be another lifeline.

“It’s not what you had in life, it’s how many times you can get it back,” he said. “And I’m going to get it back.”

Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.

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