The city is struggling to find suitable locations for giant tent structures that would serve as permanent shelters and service centers for homeless people, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg acknowledged Wednesday.
Steinberg had hoped to open the first of three “Sprung” tents next month to house 200 homeless men and women, and he previously said the city has enough funding to do so.
But officials are having trouble finding sites to accommodate such a structure, he said Wednesday. The city prefers shelter sites that are paved, at least a half-acre in size and near public transportation.
Sacramento will continue to search for property for the project, focusing on vacant, city-owned land, the mayor said. In the meantime, a 200-bed shelter in a converted warehouse on Railroad Drive in North Sacramento will remain open through the end of November. The shelter operates 24 hours a day and provides meals, showers and services designed to steer homeless people toward stability and permanent housing.
As of last week, city figures show, the shelter since opening in December had housed 404 people, 118 of whom had found stable housing. The facility was full as of Friday.
The mayor said he wants the first Sprung structure, which also will offer “wraparound” social services, to be open by the time the Railroad Drive facility closes. But “I’m not guaranteeing that,” he added.
“I’m focused on this daily,” he said. “We want multiple triage shelters of between 100 and 200 beds apiece, where we can replicate the success we have had at Railroad.”
The Sprung structure model has been credited with helping to reduce homelessness in San Diego, among other cities.
In May, Steinberg said that Sutter Health had committed $1.3 million toward purchasing and operating the portable structures. Additional private funding, plus state money, would be needed to complete the project, he said.
He said 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.
Steinberg said Wednesday that the city has raised private money to keep that shelter, initially envisioned as a temporary winter facility, open through November.
“This is money I’m raising. It won’t be city money,” the mayor said.
Meanwhile, smaller shelters that the city pays to provide homeless services are facing cuts.
As it embarks on its ambitious Whole Person Care program, which will bring $64 million in federal dollars over the next three years to fight homelessness, the city is reconsidering its contracts with local nonprofit groups that operate existing shelters.
The mayor’s office has said the city wants to focus on shelters that can demonstrate positive results and are “low barrier,” meaning that they admit people regardless of addictions, mental health issues and other concerns.
“We are taking a step back and simply asking the question of what is the best use of public money,” Steinberg said Wednesday. “We are focused on not just housing people, but moving them from shelters to housing.
“We don’t want to just manage the problem. We are looking at our public funding with a new focus.”
The city recently cut $355,000 in funding for VOA’s 80-bed men’s shelter near downtown Sacramento, forcing the agency to slash services and convert from a 24-hour facility to one that operates 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., said spokeswoman Christie Holderegger.
Holderegger said VOA’s goal is to “move people from homelessness to housing and employment,” but the task will be more difficult with the funding cut.
“With a 10-hour evening shelter, services will be limited to a meal and a safe place to sleep,” she said. “There will be no intervention services, housing services, referrals or case management to move people to housing.”
The Salvation Army also has been targeted for cuts.
Maj. Ivan Wild, divisional commander for the agency’s Del Oro division in the Sacramento area, said its shelter on North B Street, which serves about 130 homeless men and women, stands to lose $500,000 in annual funding that it has received from the city for the past two years. The agency is negotiating with the city to retain at least some of that funding, Wild said.
For the past month, as discussions have moved forward, the Salvation Army has not received city funding, he said. “We have been talking to the city, and we believe we’ve fulfilled all of their requests and met all of their variables. But we don’t know what is going to happen, and that’s my biggest concern going forward.”
Steinberg spokeswoman Mary Lynne Vellinga confirmed that negotiations with the Salvation Army are ongoing.
Should the agency lose city funding, “we’ll have to scale back on services,” said Wild. “There will be more people on the streets during the day, and less case management services in which we work with people, step by step,” to improve their lives.
“The city’s contract was very generous, and we did amazing things with that money,” he said. “I would hate to see it go away. But whatever happens, we’ll go forward. We’ll continue to provide valuable services to people who need them.”