New Sacramento homeless shelter delayed even as mayor believes homeless population has risen

Homeless shelter proposed for downtown residential hotel

Councilman Steve Hansen is proposing that the city open a homeless shelter at Capitol Park Hotel, one of the downtown residential hotels. It would be open for a year, with up to 180 beds. He talks about the plan on Wednesday, April 17, 2019.
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Councilman Steve Hansen is proposing that the city open a homeless shelter at Capitol Park Hotel, one of the downtown residential hotels. It would be open for a year, with up to 180 beds. He talks about the plan on Wednesday, April 17, 2019.

It’s been six months since Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg asked all eight City Council members to find spots for 100 homeless shelter beds in their districts, and still none are open. Now the opening of the first shelter, at downtown’s Capitol Park Hotel, is delayed at least one month.

A 180-bed shelter at the Capitol Park Hotel at Ninth and L streets, which Steinberg said would open in July, is now planned to open in August, the mayor said Wednesday. The shelter will likely be open for 16 months instead of 18 months before it is converted into permanent housing with on-site services.

Two years ago, Steinberg said he wanted to get 2,000 people off the streets by 2020. The new census count of homeless people living in Sacramento County, both sheltered and unsheltered, is expected to be released later this month. Steinberg said this week he expects the count to be higher than the 2017 number, which was about 3,660.

Steinberg said opening new shelters “is taking longer than I would like but we will break through and get thousands of people off the street.”

“I wish all these beds were up six months ago,” Steinberg said. “Some of the siting issues are not completely within our control, but we are moving aggressively.”

Mercy Housing is set to purchase the Capitol Park Hotel in early July, and then repairs will take about a month, said LaShelle Dozier, executive director of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Authority, the agency leading the project.

After the property changes hands, relocation assistants will start meeting with the roughly 90 elderly and disabled residents who live at the hotel, Dozier said.

SHRA has not yet hired an operator for the shelter, but plans to do so within the next couple of weeks, said Christine Weichert, an SHRA assistant director. SHRA has talked to operators both locally and from out of the area, including Volunteers of America, which ran the city’s Railroad Drive shelter that closed April 30, Weichert said.

SHRA will hire the operator without collecting bids, as the City Council approved earlier this month, Weichert said.

“I am really optimistic that we’re going to get this open this summer,” Weichert said. “I think we’re on track to do that.”

The shelter will likely need to close by November 2020, Weichert said. If it opens in August, it will operate for 16 months.

After the shelter closes, Mercy Housing plans to convert the hotel into permanent supportive housing. If that project receives two grants it expects, it will need to start construction in November 2020.

“I can’t emphasize enough how many moving pieces there are here,” Weichert said.

The city is spending about $23 million to open the shelter, but will be reimbursed for about $13 million after the shelter closes, officials have said.

Steinberg has said he wants SHRA to reduce the project cost, possibly by using ratepayer revenue from utility customers.

It’s too early to tell whether the project cost could be reduced, Weichert said.

The city is also planning to open a shelter with services on Cal Expo property at the southeast end of Ethan Way later this year, as well as one near the corner of X Street and Alhambra Boulevard. Both locations are on state property and still require state-level approvals.

The city has also set aside money for a shelter in south Sacramento. Steinberg said the city will likely announce the location for that shelter in the coming weeks.

The large city shelters, unlike other shelters in the area, allow people to bring their pets, partners and possessions, and do not turn people away for having drugs or alcohol in their systems. While staying at the shelter, people receive help finding affordable housing, medical care and mental health services.

“People ask all the time, ‘Why are you so focused on the shelter strategy?’” Steinberg said. “And one, it is the best prospect we have to bring thousands of people indoors, and two, it allows us to use our enforcement tools to provide real relief to our neighborhoods and our business corridors.”

The city cannot enforce its anti-camping ordinance unless there are available shelter beds to offer people.

It’s not yet decided whether pets will be allowed at the Capitol Park shelter, Weichert said. If they’re not, there will not be a shelter that allows pets until another shelter opens.

The Cal Expo shelter will likely be the next to open after Capitol Park, by the end of the year, Steinberg said.

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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.