The Homeless

Sacramento wants to build large homeless shelters. But these key sites face opposition

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is scouring the city for plots of land where three 200-bed homeless structures in large tent-like structures could open.

But in a sign of how difficult the process may become, multiple City Council members said they would oppose shelters on city-owned parcels in their districts that meet space requirements - and the council member representing the North Sacramento area said his part of town is off limits until his colleagues do their part first.

The mayor's office and homeless service providers are exploring sites throughout Sacramento, but said this week they would not discuss specific locations under consideration. The city prefers shelter sites that are paved, at least a half acre in size and near public transportation, according to Steinberg spokeswoman Mary Lynne Vellinga.

The mayor last month said the shelters would be on city-owned land, and his office provided The Bee a list of roughly 60 parcels around Sacramento that are owned by the city or its housing authority. Of those, just a handful meet basic criteria for hosting a "Sprung structure" tent shelter.

Even if the city identifies a spot that perfectly meets the needs of a 200-bed shelter, political realities will come into play. After The Bee published a city parcel map last month, residents throughout Sacramento contacted council members and voiced social media opposition to sites near them.

Councilman Jeff Harris said he would not support a shelter on a lot on North A Street in his district that meets the size criteria. The lot is near homeless service providers in the River District, an industrial area north of downtown that Harris said has "been deeply impacted by trash, street feedings, loitering - everything that's bad about homelessness."

Harris summarized the opposition that will likely materialize no matter where a shelter is placed.

"Everybody in the city wants homelessness dealt with, but they're fearful of it being dealt with anywhere in their immediate vicinity," he said.

Harris' district has hosted a 200-bed shelter on Railroad Drive since the winter. The shelter is scheduled to stay open through August, but may remain past that date if a new shelter is not operational by then.

City officials are hopeful the success of that shelter will help convince council members and community leaders to accept new shelters in their areas. A report to the City Council in May showed that the Railroad shelter had served nearly 300 people – many of whom had been homeless for several years – and helped place 79 people into permanent or long-term housing.

"Most people concluded that it is much better to have people sheltered, with a real chance at reclaiming their lives, than to remain on the boulevard or on the riverbank or on the streets," Steinberg said.

Amani Sawires Rapaski, chief operation officer of Volunteers of America, which operates the Railroad Drive shelter, said such facilities should be close to medical and counseling services, and a "reasonable distance" from residential homes and storefronts.

"Location matters if you want to spend your time providing services to people," and not just putting a roof over their heads, she said. The tent shelters, once sites are determined, would not take long to open, she said.

"Most of the hard lift has been done," she said, referring to programs, partnerships and operations established at Railroad Drive. "The hardest of the hard work already has happened."

While in Harris' district, the Railroad Drive shelter faced its fiercest opposition from residents of the nearby council district represented by Allen Warren in North Sacramento. The shelter is close to Del Paso Boulevard and the residential Woodlake neighborhood.

Warren said that all sites in his district "are off limits right now."

A possible shelter site exists at Marysville Boulevard and Grand Avenue, but he said a mixed-use development is planned there. A large cluster of city-owned parcels at Dixieanne Avenue and Selma Street is slated for housing, Warren said.

A third parcel that meets size and transit requirements is a block from Hagginwood Park, raising concerns from Warren.

Harris said he wants to revive talk of placing a shelter on land owned by Regional Transit near the Royal Oaks light rail station in Woodlake, in Warren's district.

But Warren said that site is "off the table." Warren added he wants other council members to agree to shelters in their districts before he considers a facility in North Sacramento.

"As other council members show their commitment to this issue by not only identifying locations but having a plan in place that will be executed, then District Two will join in," he said.

Two parcels that have been explored outside of North Sacramento are adjacent properties on Meadowview Road, next to the Pannell Community Center. But Councilman Larry Carr, who represents the neighborhood, said he is troubled by the prospect of a homeless shelter so close to the community building.

“There are some places where facilities like this just should not go,” Carr said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to put them near schools, libraries or within close proximity of a community center.”

Four lots in North Natomas have been ruled out because they are in residential areas, near schools or do not have direct access to public transportation, according to a source with knowledge of the city's shelter criteria. Two are on either side of the Inderkum High School campus, one is near a large apartment complex off Terracina Drive and another is in a residential neighborhood and next to a preschool at Club Center Drive and Danbrook Drive.

Steinberg is aggressively raising money from the private sector for the shelters. The city has already secured $1.3 million in private funding from Sutter Health for the project. State funds also might be used for the tent structures, said city homeless services director Emily Halcon.

"I remain committed to being fair, but insistent that we do all that it takes to get thousands of people off the streets of Sacramento," Steinberg said. "We will do everything in a collaborative and purposeful way and that means working with colleagues and working with the community. But doing nothing because it's difficult will only make the problem worse."

One publicly-owned parcel that fits the city's criteria is an empty lot on Front Street, near the city animal shelter. A nearby levee and trail along the Sacramento River has been a frequent camping ground for homeless people.

Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents that part of downtown on the City Council, declined to comment on the site.

Gina Knepp, manager of the animal shelter, said she had no objections to placing a homeless shelter in the area.

“I’d be a hypocrite if I said I had a problem with it,” said Knepp. “We regularly help and interact with lots of homeless people and their pets.”

Among other things, the animal shelter holds pets for homeless men and women who are in jail, in the hospital or otherwise unable to care for their animals.

Knepp said the believes the burden of caring for poor people should be spread across the city.

“We ask people in North Sacramento to host shelters," she said. "Why not us?”

Sacramento’s possible shelter sites

The city of Sacramento is searching for sites to place 200-bed homeless shelters. Some city-owned parcels are big enough for the shelters, although City Council members have raised concerns about each lot.
Sacramento possible homesless sites map
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