Sacramento County drops proposed limits on temporary homeless shelters

Sacramento County officials satisfied local homeless advocates Tuesday by removing limits on temporary shelters from a zoning code proposal.

An initial proposal to restrict shelters from housing no more than 125 people and operating no more than 30 days a year was widely condemned by religious leaders and homeless advocates who are gearing up to provide housing this winter. Critics were particularly upset because the county had asked the Sacramento-area religious community to fill the void in shelters when the county cut funding for the homeless during the recession.

County staff introduced a revised proposal Tuesday that would enable organizations to operate temporary shelters without the zoning restrictions originally proposed. The revised proposal was supported by religious leaders and homeless advocates when a county official presented it during a meeting last week, Planning Director Leighann Moffitt said.

The proposal came up Tuesday as the county considered a revision of its zoning code, which says where and when certain kinds of businesses and organizations can operate. The Board of Supervisors was informed of the shelter proposal change but won’t vote on it until later this year.

Lori Moss, the county’s community development director, said the county’s intent with the original proposal was misunderstood. When county planners discussed what types of businesses and organizations are not covered in the zoning code, they realized the temporary shelters operated by religious organizations are not. The plan to include them in the zoning code was intended to protect them if they receive complaints from the public, she said.

Faith-based organizations contended that they already have protections under a federal law limiting land-use restrictions on religious groups.

Ryan Loofbourrow, executive director of Sacramento Steps Forward, a nonprofit that coordinates programs for the homeless, thanked supervisors Tuesday for the change to the proposal, as did Joan Burke, advocacy director for Sacramento Loaves & Fishes.

Burke said the strong opposition to the original proposed regulation, reflected in more than 20 letters to the county, shows the strong support people have for the emergency shelters.

Dozens of congregations have responded to the need for shelters, including those who participate in the Winter Sanctuary Program, which provided 133 nights of shelter and food to more than 500 people during the last cold season, according to Loaves & Fishes.

The Rev. Rick Cole of Capital Christian Center recently spent two weeks living on the streets to raise money for and awareness of the program. A website created for the fundraising effort says he has raised $158,000.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.