Helping a neighborhood while helping the homeless
Around 200 homeless men and women will spend this winter in a converted warehouse in North Sacramento where they will have heat, beds, toilets, showers and three meals a day.
The question of where they will go when the shelter shuts down at the end of March is one of the issues worrying residents of the surrounding neighborhood, which has already been affected by a concentration of homeless campers in and around the American River Parkway.
“I really hope they don’t all end up living on the river because they are ruining it,” neighborhood resident Cathe Torgerson told city leaders at a community meeting about the controversial shelter on Monday night.
Emily Halcon, the city’s homeless services coordinator, told an audience of about 100 people at the Artisan Building on Del Paso Boulevard that organizers will work hard to discourage that from happening. One of the goals of the “winter triage” shelter, which will operate 24 hours a day in a building on Railroad Avenue, will be to connect homeless men and women with people, services and places that will put them on a path to permanent housing.
The program aims to help guests “exit the shelter to something better” than homeless encampments, Halcon said, such as transitional housing, existing shelter programs or the homes of family members. “The goal would be that everybody is offered something that is not an exit to the streets,” she said. But she acknowledged some may migrate back to living outdoors.
Halcon, City Councilman Allen Warren and assistant City Manager Arturo Sanchez fielded questions and addressed concerns about the shelter, which some North Sacramento residents oppose in part because the area already is besieged by crime and poverty. A second, more permanent shelter planned for the same general area also is under consideration, but because of public outcry in North Sacramento the city also is looking at other neighborhoods for the facility, including a site near 24th Street and Florin Road in south Sacramento, Halcon and the others said.
Volunteers of America is contracting with the city to run the winter facility, but the two have yet to come to final terms about some operational details, including security, daytime programs and transportation, officials said. The shelter is scheduled to open on Dec. 8.
The city has committed to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to combat potential impacts of the shelter on neighboring businesses, said Warren, and officials are working with an ad hoc committee of residents to decide how that money should be spent. The city will allot $175,000 for increased police patrols around the shelter, he said.
Still, some residents of the area strongly criticized the plan. Woodlake resident Mike Hernandez predicted that the “social impacts” on homeowners and businesses would be significant, and said the shelter project is a “boondoggle” that will “go down in flames.”
He and others queried the panel of city officials about whether winter shelter residents would undergo criminal background checks, and asked if operators would impose strict curfews.
“We’re not locking people up,” Halcon explained. “They are free to go,” although they could be escorted from the property for violating rules against drug and alcohol abuse and violence. She said shelter residents would not be subjected to criminal background checks.
The shelter plans are part of Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s plan to stem Sacramento’s growing homeless crisis.
An estimated 3,665 people are living without permanent shelter in Sacramento County, according to a recent count by Sacramento Steps Forward, the agency that coordinates local efforts to aid the homeless.
Homelessness rose by 30 percent from 2,822 people the last time the transient population was counted in 2015, the census found. It was the highest number of people living without permanent housing Sacramento has ever recorded. About 2,000 of those counted by the survey were living outside.
The city and county recently agreed to commit $108 million over the next three years to help thousands of chronically homeless people off of the streets using federal and city money from a pilot program known as Whole Person Care, as well as county funding for increased mental health and addiction services. The combined effort is designed to keep people out of emergency rooms, bring stability to their lives through various programs and move them toward permanent housing.
Officials hope the winter shelter will be a first step.
“This is one tool in our toolbox,” Halcon said at Monday’s meeting. “The best tool is permanent housing. But housing people inside during the winter with improved services can lead to that outcome.”