Hundreds of North Sacramento residents and business owners on Monday night pelted Mayor Darrell Steinberg and two City Council members with questions and concerns about plans to open two large homeless shelters in an already impoverished section of the city.
An overflow crowd of some 400 people packed the Artisan Building on Del Paso Boulevard to ask about the proposals, but the meeting frequently was interrupted by shouts, jeers and boos directed at Steinberg and City Council members Allen Warren and Jeff Harris, who back the plan.
Some accused the mayor and council members of trying to push through their proposals without proper notice or adequate input from neighborhood residents and business owners.
“How about putting it in Land Park?” they shouted. “Why not downtown or East Sacramento?”
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Organizers of the meeting circulated petitions opposing the shelters and passed out signs that read “Don’t Railroad Us” and “North Sacramento Will Share the Burden, Not Shoulder the Burden.”
Steinberg said the sheltering plan is part of a broad-based response to a crisis of homelessness in Sacramento, noting that thousands of people are without shelter on any given night in the city and county, and dozens die on the streets each year.
“I find this social condition to be unacceptable, unacceptable, unacceptable,” he said. “People are frustrated that this social condition is not getting better. It’s getting worse.”
The proposal, which many residents said they learned about for the first time in The Sacramento Bee last month, calls for the opening of a winter homeless shelter in December with about 300 beds on Railroad Drive off Del Paso Boulevard. The shelter would be open 24 hours and would replace the current winter sanctuary program that rotates through houses of worship. Later, after an evaluation of the winter program, Steinberg said, city officials hope to open a more permanent shelter with 200 beds next to the Royal Oaks light rail station. A developer is proposing to build 150 units of affordable housing next to the shelter.
Steinberg, Warren and Harris said the proposals represent important steps toward addressing the city’s concerns about homelessness.
“We must do something, or this issue is going to overwhelm us and threaten the economic renaissance in every single neighborhood,” Steinberg said.
North Sacramento residents lined up to take to the microphone and blast the proposed shelters.
“This is not about homelessness,” one speaker said. “It’s about where you are putting these facilities. Why are they so close to our neighborhoods? We have children who walk to school by themselves. You’re not thinking about that!” The crowd responded to her remarks with loud applause.
Other speakers said their neighborhood had become a “dumping ground” for people and services that would never be tolerated in more upscale areas of the city, and accused the mayor and council members of trying to sneak through an unpopular proposal.
“This puts the whole problem on one district, when we all know that the problem is a citywide problem,” one person said. “Why can’t the council come up with a plan in each district?”
A few of those who attended the meeting applauded Steinberg, Warren and Harris for trying to tackle a seemingly intractable problem. One man, who identified himself as homeless, chided the naysayers and warned, “Watch out, because it could happen to you in a heartbeat.”
Audience members frequently shouted down the elected officials when they outlined details of the sheltering plan and tried to allay concerns about such issues as trash, crime and security. Both Steinberg and Warren repeatedly tried to bring order to the meeting.
“I’m not going to respond to someone shouting from the audience,” the mayor said at one point. Warren told one woman to go home if she insisted on being disrespectful to speakers.
Steinberg said his overall plan for ending homelessness includes more assertive outreach on the streets, case management for homeless people who are mentally ill or addicted, and permanent housing. He pointed to new sources of funding, but admitted that the changes will not happen as quickly as people are demanding.
City officials have spent years scouring for potential locations for shelters, only to be rebuffed by building owners and neighborhoods, Harris said. In North Sacramento, “we got a yes” from the owner of an industrial building, he said.
“We have a ‘yes,’ and we have a site that is relatively ensconced by levees. I think we will have success,” he said.
A Woodlake resident expressed strong skepticism.
“We are angry. My heart is beating out of my chest right now,” she said. “None of us hate the homeless. All we want to know is, ‘Why here?’ and why did we have to hear about this from The Sacramento Bee?’
“I wish I believed in unicorns and rainbows and all of that,” she said, referring to the sheltering plan. “But I don’t.”
The City Council is scheduled to address the issue at its meeting Tuesday.