Sacramento to use public money for homeless shelter, and more could be on tap

Some city money will help keep a large emergency homeless shelter in north Sacramento open through April, and Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Tuesday he wants to use city money to open more shelters next year.

“We definitely need funding partners in order to do this, but we also can no longer say we negate the possibility that we use general fund dollars, especially one-time general fund dollars, Steinberg said.

One-time general fund dollars are ideal for erecting sprung structure tents and installing infrastructure to open shelters in existing warehouses like Railroad Drive, Steinberg said.

The city has a reserve fund containing about $15 million in Measure U tax money that city staff created in case voters did not pass the Measure U sales-tax increase last month. That money can fund one-time expenses, not ongoing operations.

At least one council member has concerns about dipping in to the city’s general fund for shelters.

“In the ensuing months, I would ... very much like to see options that do not include general fund because that’s really tough for us,” Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said.

About $2.4 million in city money has gone to the Raildroad Drive shelter in the year it’s been open, but no city money has gone toward it since May, according to Andrew Geurkink, city program analyst. The shelter has since been funded by private money secured by Steinberg.

The council Tuesday voted unanimously to keep Railroad Drive shelter open through at least April, using $1.2 million from UC Davis Medical Center and $376,992 in city money, and reducing its capacity from 200 to 100 beds.

The extension gives the city more time to find a more permanent solution to its homeless problem. Steinberg last month asked all eight council members to find locations for at least 100 homeless shelter beds in each district.

The mayor plans to next month announce a funding proposal that would use city, state and private money for Railroad Drive and the new shelters, he said Tuesday.

“I don’t want us to piecemeal this, for staff to have to come back every three or four months to get the next couple months’ approval,” Steinberg said. “We need to bring forward a funding proposal.”

That plan might not include funding for all eight new shelters at once, but could include funding four next year and four in 2020, for example, Steinberg said.

In the meantime, the Railroad Drive shelter will remain open at least through April, with an option to extend it through June, according to the city’s new lease the council approved Tuesday.

The council could vote later to keep the shelter open beyond April 30, but would have to come up with a way to pay for it, said Emily Halcon, the city’s homeless services coordinator. The shelter costs about $400,000 a month to run.

Dan Aderholt, a homeless advocate, urged the council to keep the Railroad Drive shelter open until at least July, as the mayor proposed earlier this month.

“If you guys close this shelter, a lot of people are going to die,” he said.

Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, asked the council to have at least one new shelter open by the time the Railroad Drive shelter closes.

At least 110 homeless people have died so far in Sacramento County this year, Erlenbusch said.

“Every six days a homeless person dies,” Erlenbusch said. “Don’t miss an opportunity to save lives.”

The city’s $376,992 — coming from the Measure U reserve fund — will pay for cleaning, electrical upgrades, air conditioning, and help with anticipated winter flooding at the shelter, Halcon said.

The reduction in beds will allow the city to provide better services to the residents, Halcon said.

The emergency shelter opened in December with 200 beds, but many residents cannot sleep on the top level of bunk beds because of physical or mental disabilities — another reason for the reduction, the city staff report said.

The city is not kicking people out of the shelter, where about 140 people are staying, but is letting the number go down to 100 as people leave the facility, Halcon said.

The shelter is a low-barrier triage facility, meaning it is open 24/7, provides three meals a day and allows people to bring their pets, partners and belongings. It also provides medical and mental health services, helps residents get a state identification card and helps remove other barriers they encounter in the search for permanent housing.

In the year the Railroad Drive shelter has been open, 619 people have entered the facility and 469 have exited, the staff report said. About 170 of those who left moved on to more permanent housing upon departure.

This article was corrected Dec. 19 to clarify a statement by Bob Erlenbusch. Erlenbusch said his data shows that every six days a homeless person dies in Sacramento county, not in the city of Sacramento.

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