'You need to help them until they're stable'
Mayor Darrell Steinberg wants to keep a controversial winter homeless shelter open indefinitely in North Sacramento and find two other locations elsewhere in the city to house large numbers of homeless men and women.
At a meeting Thursday evening at the Artisan Building, Steinberg told anxious neighborhood residents that he would like the converted warehouse on Railroad Drive “to be the longer term solution” for homeless people in North Sacramento. He said he is talking with owners of the building about extending the city’s lease for the shelter.
In the meantime, officials said, the city is working with a private real estate broker to seek two more locations for similar “triage shelters,” each of which could house and provide services to 100 or more people, in other neighborhoods.
City officials originally promised that the converted warehouse on Railroad Drive would operate only through March 31. It would then be replaced by another, permanent shelter in a different location, they told neighborhood residents.
But they have yet to secure another location, and Steinberg has said it would be inhumane to close the winter shelter and leave 200 residents without housing or services.
Officials have been looking at opening a permanent shelter close to the Railroad Drive site, near the Royal Oaks light rail station in the Woodlake neighborhood. But Steinberg said he now wants to take that option off the table.
“Frankly, I think it would take many months or longer to make it an option,” the mayor said. In the meantime, “we can’t just turn 200 people back to the streets.”
Steinberg and others at Thursday’s meeting declared the winter facility a success, pointing out that it lured chronically homeless people from river encampments and provided them with basic services including food and restrooms, as well as help in finding health care, counseling and housing. Meanwhile, officials said, crime in the area surrounding the shelter has dropped about 50 percent since its opening in early December.
The cost of operating the shelter is $401,453 monthly, which includes extra police patrols in the surrounding area. The money also funds crews of homeless people, some of them shelter clients, that clean garbage and debris from the area.
Some residents of neighborhoods surrounding the shelter have complained that the facility has drawn more homeless men and women to North Sacramento. They have argued that services for the homeless should be distributed more evenly throughout the city.
The tone of Thursday’s meeting was mostly cordial, but some citizens had questions and concerns about the city’s sheltering plan.
Alicia Sebastian, who chairs a citizen advisory committee on homelessness, said some residents are frustrated by what they perceive to be the city’s lack of transparency and collaboration with people who live in the neighborhood.
“It’s fair to ask if the city is doing the best thing” for homeless people by “warehousing” them on Railroad Drive, Sebastian said. Others suggested that the presence of a permanent shelter might cause property values in the area to decline.
The winter “triage” shelter, the first of its kind in Sacramento, has a maximum capacity of 200 people and has served 264 since its opening, officials said. It is open around the clock, and allows residents to bring in their partners and pets. Most of the shelter’s residents have been drawn from encampments in the immediate area of the facility, officials said.
Steinberg said such shelters fit “into the city’s larger strategy to combat homelessness.” That strategy also includes building more affordable housing and more dollars for mental health services, he said.
A census last year found that at least 2,052 people sleep unsheltered every night in Sacramento.