Sacramento County to consider a new homeless center with fewer restrictions

Sacramento considers homeless center similar to successful version in San Francisco

Sacramento County will consider creating a shelter modeled after the Navigation Center in San Francisco. The Bee was asked to not include Navigation Center clients in this video.
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Sacramento County will consider creating a shelter modeled after the Navigation Center in San Francisco. The Bee was asked to not include Navigation Center clients in this video.

Where a school once stood in the Mission District, there’s still a sense of waiting for the bell to ring. Pale yellow portables ring a courtyard with benches and tables, shade tents and potted trees. It’s impeccably clean and quiet in the middle of a Friday.

But instead of desks and whiteboards, the portables contain sturdy cots, freezers full of packaged meals, a dining room, meeting rooms, laundry facilities and showers. In one corner of the lot, a line of five shipping containers holds the possessions of 75 homeless men and women who used to live in one of the many encampments spread throughout the Bay Area.

The Navigation Center and a sister operation several blocks away gave city outreach workers enough space and credibility with homeless people to fully clear several tent cities so far, said Sam Dodge, deputy director of San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. The model’s success led city leaders to approve more centers, three of which will open this year.

After removing a homeless encampment from a park along Islais Creek, “It’s a public place again,” Dodge said.

That idea appealed to Sacramento County Supervisors Phil Serna and Don Nottoli, who have struggled for years with the impact of homeless campers on the American River Parkway. The two supervisors on Friday toured the Navigation Center in San Francisco along with county staff, Director of Homeless Initiatives Cindy Cavanaugh and Ryan Loofbourrow, head of Sacramento Steps Forward, the county’s primary homeless services coordinator.

At Tuesday’s Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting, Cavanaugh will outline an ambitious plan to move Sacramento’s homeless population into housing that includes a facility modeled after the San Francisco program, dubbed the Full Service Rehousing Shelter.

The county “has looked at the San Francisco model for the Full Service Rehousing Shelter because of the success they have had in engaging people who have been homeless for a long time in services and housing,” Cavanaugh said. “The approach meets people where they are and offers respite and stability so people can take the next step.”

Three other proposals are part of the package – redesigning the family emergency shelter system, sustaining long-standing programs at risk of losing federal dollars and launching a Flexible Supportive Housing Program that pairs housing with mental health services and addiction treatment for those facing the biggest obstacles.

The county price tag for all four is slightly more than $5.58 million in new spending for 2017-18 and $8.3 million annually thereafter. Sacramento County is also counting on help from Sutter Health, the federal government and general funds dedicated for Sacramento Steps Forward. With existing funds, the annual price tag will be $10.2 million.

Cavanaugh’s report doesn’t recommend a site for the full-service shelter – it only specifies that it will be in the unincorporated county. Location is the most controversial part of setting up such a program, Dodge said.

“County staff is initially looking at county-owned property within the unincorporated area that would be compatible with this use,” Cavanaugh said.

The Navigation Center model focuses on eliminating barriers that deter deeply entrenched homeless people from using traditional shelters. People can bring their pets – there’s a dog run – as well as partners and all of their possessions. There’s no curfew, though residents are expected to check in at least every 72 hours and attend appointments set with housing coordinators, social workers and counselors.

Residents can eat meals when they want them rather than at a designated meal time. Not forcing people to adhere to a strict, institutionlike schedule creates a culture that’s more appealing to homeless people who are used to living on their own, said Emily Cohen, policy manager for the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

Cavanaugh envisions a shelter with similar components in Sacramento. It would have 75 dormitory-style beds, showers and laundry facilities. Case managers on-site would help people find jobs, permanent housing and public benefits. Rather than taking walk-in clients, law enforcement agencies and outreach workers would refer homeless people who are least likely to seek out or receive traditional services like shelters.

County staff estimate it will cost $2.35 million from a variety of funds in the first year and $1.65 million a year to operate. An additional $1 million currently used for a rapid rehousing program through Sacramento Steps Forward could be used to fund housing assistance for shelter clients, the report said.

The proposed shelter would direct those with severe mental health and substance abuse issues into the Flexible Supportive Housing Program, which pairs intensive services with housing.

Editor’s note (12:15 p.m.): This story was updated March 20 to reflect the correct costs for the four county proposals.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison