The Homeless

Huge pop-up homeless shelters are planned for three Sacramento neighborhoods

A controversial homeless shelter in North Sacramento will remain open for at least three more months - and its replacement may be coming to an empty lot near you.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Monday the city plans to open a massive tent-like structure on city-owned property by September that will shelter up to 200 homeless individuals. Steinberg said he eventually wants to house 600 people in three of the shelters, which are based on the "Sprung structure" model that has been credited with helping to reduce the homeless population in San Diego.

The mayor has not identified sites for the pop-up shelters, but said he was "not ruling anything out." This map shows all city-owned vacant parcels in Sacramento.

"This is a citywide problem," the mayor said. "Fair share is a very important principle and concept."

In the meantime, a 200-bed homeless triage shelter on Railroad Drive in North Sacramento will remain open through the end of August, thanks to financial contributions from Sutter Health and a private foundation. The shelter had been scheduled to close at the end of May.

Sutter Health has committed $1 million toward keeping the triage center open through the end of August, said Keri Thomas, the hospital group's vice president of external affairs. The family of Helene and David Taylor also made a "generous" donation toward the effort, said Steinberg.

Sutter is investing another $1.3 million toward purchasing and operating three large portable structures that can be erected quickly and house potentially hundreds of people, officials said. Like the Railroad Drive homeless triage shelter, the portable structures would operate around the clock and offer "wraparound" services.

The approach likely would cost less than the $450,000 per month the city is spending on the Railroad Drive facility, which Volunteers of America operates.

Spurred in part by a hepatitis A outbreak that left more than a dozen dead, San Diego approved three large tents sheltering the homeless last year. The first facility opened in December near a downtown railyard not far from Petco Park, home of baseball’s San Diego Padres.

The shelter is staffed by navigators who help the homeless find permanent housing, drug and mental health counselors and health care workers. Service providers set a goal of sheltering people no more than 120 days at a time before transitioning those in need into housing.

City and housing officials approved spending $6.5 million to run three tents in San Diego for seven months. A report released last week by the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless said the homeless population had declined by 6 percent over the past year, and officials in part credited the shelter tents for the decrease.

Steinberg said he is uncertain which local neighborhoods might house the structures, and he expects some blowback from residents that might be affected by their presence.

A preliminary list of city-owned properties provided to The Bee on Monday showed a cluster of parcels in North Sacramento. But the city owns properties in other parts of the city, according to the list, including North Natomas, Land Park, downtown and Meadowview.

Asked if he would offer sites in his district, Councilman Jay Schenirer - who represents Curtis Park, Oak Park and a cluster of neighborhoods near Sacramento Executive Airport - said he would. He said the success of the Railroad Drive facility has given neighborhoods proof that a shelter can have a positive impact.

"We want to be part of the solution, not the problem," he said.

The name of the pop-up shelters refers to the manufacturer Sprung, which offers "tensioned fabric structures" for a variety of uses, from military bases to churches and homeless shelters.

The Railroad Drive shelter in North Sacramento is an innovation for the city. The facility offers beds, bathroom facilities and meals for as many as 200 people at a time. It is a "low barrier" shelter that does not require homeless people to be clean and sober, and residents can bring in their possessions, pets and partners. It also offers a wide array of services designed to connect homeless people with health care, insurance and permanent housing.

Despite some outcry from neighborhood residents who have argued that the shelter has drawn more homeless people to the area, the city has declared the shelter a success. The mayor has said it is a key element of his promise to get 2,000 people off of the streets by 2020.

About 300 people have enrolled in the shelter since December, and 139 were living at the facility as of last week. Seventy-nine people had moved on to stable housing, either in apartments, transitional living homes or with family members, the city reports.

"We're getting some of the most difficult, intractable homeless people off of the streets and the riverbanks," said Steinberg.

"I've said it before. We are not closing this thing without a fight. We're just not doing it, because it's working."

Larry Glover-Meade, president of the Woodlake Neighborhood Association, accused the mayor of misleading North Sacramento residents about the shelter, which originally was supposed to operate only through the winter.

"Yet again, the mayor and the city manager's office have lied to us about what is happening," he said. "We were assured that the shelter was closing in May. The city refuses to work with us as partners, and it's completely frustrating."

"We've been asking for months, 'What is the citywide response to the homeless crisis? Are the city's poor areas destined to burden the responsibility for the entire city? We all need to play a part."

Steinberg has said his office is receiving fewer complaints about the facility. He said data makes it clear that the approach is changing lives and improving the community.

"It's not perfect," the mayor said of his plan. "I'm not proclaiming that this is entirely curable. I'm asking for some patience. I'd rather invest in smart things, even if the results aren't immediate."

Thomas of Sutter Health said the city and its partners are "building a new system of care" for homeless people, "and that takes time."

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