The Sacramento City Council unlocked millions in state homelessness funding Thursday by voting unanimously to declare an emergency shelter crisis for three months.
The declaration was a state mandate necessary for the city to qualify for part of $553 million in one-time funding set aside by the state Legislature in June to address homelessness across California.
The city has joined with Sacramento County and the nonprofit group Sacramento Steps Forward to apply for $20 million from the state to pay for shelters and programs to help the county’s more than 3,000 homeless people. The city will directly administer about $7.7 million of the funding, received over two and a half years, said Emily Halcon, coordinator of the city’s homeless services.
The shelter crisis declaration will be in effect from December to March and the majority of the city money will likely be used to pay for additional homeless shelters to replace the emergency shelter in North Sacramento, now set to close by Dec. 31.
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The city plans to use more than $4 million on at least one new 200-bed triage shelter, according to a report prepared by city staff. The city also plans to open other new low-barrier triage shelters, Steinberg said, though locations for new facilities has yet to be decided.
Steinberg said he plans to announce potential locations early next month and expects at least one facility to open by Jan. 1, when the Railroad Drive center will close.
“(This is) not just to replace Railroad Avenue, which we must, or the capacity, which we must, but to dramatically expand it,” Steinberg said.
The Railroad Drive shelter, the first city-operated low-barrier triage facility, was previously scheduled to close at the end of November but private funding is allowing it to operate through the end of December. It is typically at full capacity, like all shelters in the city on any given night, said Halcon.
Since it opened in December 2017, more than 600 people have stayed there. More than 30 percent of those who have left are no longer homeless, said Halcon.
The location of new shelters has been controversial. Steinberg reiterated Thursday that he would like to see homeless facilities located in multiple neighborhoods throughout the city.
“As we address this problem aggressively and as we build our capacity, it shouldn’t just be one part of the city that houses triage (shelters),” he told The Bee. “There have to be multiple sites.”
Declaring a shelter crisis gives Sacramento more leeway to open homeless shelters on any city-owned land with fewer regulations and public health and safety rules. Municipalities that make the declaration can also allow homeless people to occupy “designated public facilities” during its state of emergency, the state law governing the one-time funding says.
It was unclear Thursday whether the city would utilize those tools, prompting criticisms from some homeless advocates.
“I don’t quite get why we would not extend the shelter crisis to be able to leverage everything the shelter crisis can give,” said Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness.
New shelters opened with the funds could be “Sprung Structures,” semi-permanent tent-like buildings which can stay up for a matter of weeks, months or years. Those structures could be erected in as little as six weeks, said Halcon.
The city could also convert existing structures such as warehouses, similar to the Railroad Drive facility. An idea floated last year to open a shelter in the former Florin Adult Education Center in south Sacramento is no longer on the table, Steinberg said.
Several activists urged the council to pass a shelter crisis declaration that would last a full year as Sacramento and Los Angeles counties did last month, instead of just three months.
“I would say at least the city should match the county in terms of declaring a shelter crisis,” Erlenbusch said. “It really looks like you’re taking the money and running with it.”