A 100-bed homeless shelter is proposed near this wealthy Sacramento neighborhood

A grassy lot near Sacramento’s leafy Curtis Park neighborhood could be the next site for a large city-run homeless shelter.

Councilman Jay Schenirer has proposed a 100-bed shelter on a state-owned lot near where X Street runs into Alhambra Boulevard. Caltrans, the state’s transportation agency, is in talks with city officials to allow the shelter to be built on the site, which sits in the shadows of a freeway on-ramp connecting Highway 99 and Highway 50.

Schenirer said he is aiming for City Council approval of the shelter as early as next month. The facility could open in about a year.

Schenirer said the location is suitable because it’s not near homes and there are many homeless people living in tents under nearby freeway overpasses and on sidewalks. Those people would be first in line for the shelter, Schenirer said.

“We know there is a significant problem with homelessness in that direct area,” Schenirer said. “We really want to put shelters where folks are so we can get that area cleaned up at the same time helping individuals who need help so it becomes a win-win.”

The shelter – likely a large tent-like structure – would be modeled after the city’s low-barrier triage shelter on Railroad Drive in north Sacramento, where guests receive medical and mental services, as well as help getting state IDs and other documents they need to find jobs and housing. Unlike most other shelters in the area, guests are not turned away for having drugs or alcohol in their systems, and can bring their pets, partners and possessions. Increased police patrols, fencing, and around-the-clock staffing would also be part of the deal.

The X Street shelter would also address a concern that shelters are only opening in low-income neighborhoods, Schenirer said. The proposed shelter site is near Curtis Park and North Oak Park, where real estate prices have skyrocketed in recent years and the average home is now worth nearly $400,000.

“We need to have sites around the city, so everyone needs to take their fair share,” Schenirer said. “This would fulfill that obligation.”

During a recent council meeting, Councilman Larry Carr, who represents Meadowview, asked why shelters could not be opened in Curtis Park or South Land Park, instead of “underserved areas” in north and south Sacramento.

Andi Liebenbaum, board president of the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association in Curtis Park, said she is supportive of the shelter.

“I don’t believe people are choosing this as a lifestyle, so I think as society this is an incredible response,” said Liebenbaum, who lives three blocks from the site. “I think what the City Council, the mayor and Jay have proposed is a great experiment that I really want to work.”

Ty Miller, who is experiencing homelessness, sits near a vacant lot, Thursday, March 21, 2019, where Sacramento City Councilmen Jay Schenirer and Steve Hansen are proposing the city open a homeless shelter between X Street and Broadway near Alhambra Boulevard. Lezlie Sterling lsterling@sacbee.com

On Thursday, 28-year-old Ty Miller sat on the curb next to the lot where the shelter would be erected..

“I would definitely go,” Miller said. “I would even work there, make sure everyone has clean sheets, whatever needs to be done.”

Miller, of Davis, has been waiting for a shelter bed to open at the Railroad Drive shelter for more than six months, he said. He has been homeless since his car was stolen a few years ago, he said.

He was studying at Sacramento City College for nine months to become a pediatric nurse, while homeless, but then dropped out. Without an ID and an address, he has had a hard time finding a new job and getting a new cellphone, he said.

Help getting a new ID at the shelter, as well as a place to store his belongings, would help get him back on his feet, Miller said.

Several weeks ago, a Caltrans crew threw away Miller’s tents, as well as his clothing, his iPad, and a chain from his deceased grandfather, he said.

“Since I’m homeless, they don’t care,” Miller said, choking back tears.

Mario Joseph, 33, packs up some belongings while standing under a freeway onramp, Thursday, March 21, 2019, near a vacant lot that Sacramento City Councilmen Jay Schenirer and Steve Hansen are proposing the city open a homeless shelter. Lezlie Sterling lsterling@sacbee.com

Mario Joseph, who sleeps near the overpass some nights, has been homeless since he lost his Oak Park apartment on Thanksgiving, he said. He was sleeping in his car until it got towed. He then lost his job as a contractor.

On Wednesday, Joseph was riding his bike along the side of the lot where the shelter could go on his way to work on his resume. He has an ID, but his job hunt has been difficult without a mailing address, he said. He would be interested in staying in the shelter for help getting housing and employment.

“It’s really hard not to have an address,” said Joseph, 33, a graduate of Valley High School. “I would stay (at the shelter), yeah, but I’m trying to leave California. It’s just going to keep getting worse.”

Richard Tony Sanchez, 55, sits under a freeway overpass on T Street, Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Sacramento with his brother who are both experiencing homelessness. Lezlie Sterling lsterling@sacbee.com

Richard Tony Sanchez, 55, has been sleeping under the overpass for several years with his brother, he said.

Sanchez would not go to the shelter — he prefers to sleep outside — but he knows many homeless people in the area who would, he said.

“A lot of them need help getting jobs and housing,” Sanchez said. “A lot of them can’t cash a check. Once they get IDs, they can look for jobs.”

Jonathan Porteus, the CEO of WellSpace Health, supports the shelter. He said shelter guests could walk across Alhambra Boulevard to the WellSpace walk-in clinic that’s open every day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“I think the option may be a really good one,” Porteus said. “There’s access to transportation, employment and healthcare. The last thing we want to do is isolate people when we’re actually trying to integrate them more into society.”

Other nearby business owners are less thrilled.

Bob Dutra, owner of Bob’s Glass, which borders the shelter site, said he has lost business in the last few years because of the homeless population in the area. And he said he believes the shelter would make him lose more.

“Why can’t they find a spot that has no businesses around?” he asked.

Dutra is especially bothered that the homeless people would be at the shelter not just at night but during business hours, while they will soon be barred from sleeping on the ground outside City Hall during business hours, he said.

Councilman Steve Hansen, whose district covers neighborhoods near the planned shelter, said feedback he’s received has mostly been positive so far.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how constructive so far the conversations have been,” Hansen said. “Neighbors and businesses see this as a hopeful effort to reduce impacts. It’s not just being dropped in, but really is being well thought out.”

Mayor Darrell Steinberg in December asked all eight council members to find sites for homeless shelters in their districts.

This is the second site Schenirer has proposed in his district, which includes Curtis Park, Oak Park and parts of south Sacramento. Schenirer also proposed a 100-bed Sprung tent shelter on a parking lot at the Florin light rail station, owned by Sacramento Regional Transit.

Councilman Jeff Harris proposed a site on Cal Expo property at the southeast end of Ethan Way near the RV park, which is awaiting council approval.

Schenirer hopes the council will vote to approve the X Street shelter, along with the Florin light rail shelter, next month after talks with Caltrans wrap up, he said.

“The City of Sacramento has reached out to Caltrans for assistance in addressing the problem of homelessness in the Sacramento region,” Caltrans said in a statement. “Caltrans agrees that this issue and the increase in the area’s homeless population needs to be addressed. Caltrans has been meeting with the city of Sacramento to determine what the best course of action should be and how our department can assist.”

Schenirer and Hansen are holding a community meeting about the proposed X Street shelter at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Sierra 2 Center for the Arts and Community, 2791 24th St.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.