The Homeless

‘It’s home.’ To help the homeless, what happens to Capitol Park’s residents?

Robert Hoatlin has been here before.

Eleven years ago, Hoatlin was one of the last remaining residents at the Hotel Berry – formerly a single-room occupancy hotel in downtown Sacramento for low-income residents that has since been redeveloped.

Now he could be among the last residents of the Capitol Park Hotel as the city considers a plan to temporarily convert the property to a homeless shelter. It would serve as a shelter for a year and a half, then be converted to permanent supportive housing units.

Hoatlin is 63 and says he suffers from advanced kidney disease and had a heart attack last year. He was paying $425 a month for his room at Hotel Berry.

The first apartment a relocation consultant showed him was $780 a month – almost the entirety of his monthly social security check that must cover all his expenses.

The consultant showed him places in Citrus Heights, Davis and West Sacramento, far from his doctor and his life downtown. He rented one of them, then ended up homeless.

About a month later, he met Irene Henry, owner of the Capitol Park Hotel – the charming white building that has stood at the corner of 9th and L streets for more than a century.

He’s now lived 11 years at Capitol Park, where he pays $575 for a room. He planned to stay there for the rest of his life. He wasn’t thrilled to learn Henry is selling the property to Mercy Housing at the end of the year to be rehabbed as 130 studio permanent supportive housing units but he could live with it.

On Thursday he learned the building will likely first become a homeless shelter, opening as early as this summer. The City Council is set to vote Tuesday on the plan. He was shocked.

“If they have to get you outta here in a hurry, they aren’t gonna be real careful about where they put you,” Hoatlin said.

He talked about his concerns, for himself and the other residents, Friday as he sat on a floral wicker chair in the hotel’s lobby. It’s dated but tidy. The location works for him. Another might not.

He worries he’s going to be placed in an apartment he can’t afford, far from downtown, then end up homeless again. He’s even more worried about what will happen to his neighbors, many of whom are practically bedridden.

“There are about 90 other people upstairs who are worse off than I am,” said Hoatlin on Friday.

“We have people in their 80s and 90s up there,” he said. “We have people who are severely disabled and really don’t need to be jostled around at this point in their life. They’re horrified right now.”

George Green Jr. talks in his room where he’s lived for the past 14 year at the Capitol Park Hotel in downtown Sacramento, Friday, April 19, 2019. Councilman Steve Hansen is proposing to turn the hotel into a homeless shelter and the council will likely vote on Tuesday. Lezlie Sterling

George Green Jr. also worries that leaving Capitol Park. Green is 75, a Navy veteran on social security, and has lived there for 14 years, He knows leaving means he, too, could be homeless.

“You solve one problem .... but then the next thing you know, the following year, we’ll be the homeless,” said Green.

The walls of his fourth-floor room are stained yellow, his curtain is ripped and the air is musty. But it’s tidy and includes a queen bed, TV, dresser and two night stands. A cleaning crew comes once a week, at no charge to Green.

“It’s not a palace, let’s face it,” Green said. “It’s not a Hilton hotel.”

Green is fine with moving to a new place, as long as it’s furnished, the rent is comparable, it’s near public transit and not too far from the J Street doctor where he goes for back pain treatment.

La Shelle Dozier, the executive director of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, said consultants work hard to accommodate those types of requests.

“Relocation consultants will actually be assigned to each individual occupant there to really craft where they want to go, where they want to be, and the funding to do that is going to be provided up front,” Dozier said during a news conference at City Hall on Thursday. “We will work until every single person has been relocated.”

The tenants could move to other SROs, or other find affordable housing in their budget, Dozier said.

“We don’t want to put them in a situation where they’re put into housing they can’t maintain and is not sustainable over a long term,” Dozier said.

Tenants will likely also have an option to take a check and find a place on their own, Dozier said.

Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown and is proposing the shelter, said the city will make sure the residents are “permanently and stably housed.”

“That’s the benefit of SHRA, they control probably a few thousand senior units in the downtown area,” Hansen said. “Certainly these are people who we want to be sure land in good places.”

One less SRO hotel

Many of Capitol Park’s residents are skeptical. They have experienced this move before.

As downtown revitalization ramps up, SROs serving low-income elderly and disabled residents in old hotels are disappearing. About half of Capitol Park’s residents moved in after the Hotel Marshall closed in 2014, Hoatlin said.

That building, at 7th and L streets, will soon be a boutique Hyatt Centric Hotel. The Ridgeway, another former SRO, is now the Ridgeway Studios, a trendy apartment building catering to young service industry workers. Hotel Berry, one block from the Golden 1 Center, has also been redeveloped into affordable studio apartments.

An ordinance requires the city to keep at least 712 SRO units open at all times, but Hoatlin worries the new units the city will use to fill that requirement will not be as affordable or will require credit checks, which the elderly residents of Capitol Park cannot pass.

After Capitol Park closes as a shelter after about 18 months and reopens as permanent supportive housing, those units will count toward the city’s SRO quota, Dozier said. How much the rent will be, and other requirements tenants may have to meet, are unclear.

“Once you close this building, the last vestige of low-income housing in downtown is gone,” Hoatlin said. “You can’t build all these places down here, build lofts and renovate all these buildings and say ‘it’s low-income housing’ when half the people who have been in low-income housing can’t pass your credit check.”

Other residents are more optimistic.

Paul Scharf, 76, has lived at the hotel for nearly four years. He was unfazed by the news and was planning to move in June anyway.

“Even if I wasn’t going to leave in June, it’d still be OK to leave because I guess they’re going to relocate the people who are living here so that would be fine with me,” Scharf said.

‘This is home’

Even if all the residents find new homes to meet their needs, Hoatlin worries the most vulnerable residents won’t find people to take care of them as they have in the tight-knit hotel.

Hoatlin and the younger residents of the hotel often grocery shop, cook food and pick up prescriptions for their older neighbors, he said.

“They won’t try to look for assisted living for these people,” Hoatlin said. “They won’t look for a place where people take care of their neighbors like here.”

Green said the hotel’s residents look out for each other. For many, their closest family and friends have died.

“We try to get along with each other,” Green said. “There’s a lot of people here with wheelchairs and canes. I’m lucky, I can move around fairly well, but this time next year maybe I won’t be able to.”

Hoatlin plans to share his concerns at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, where the council is set to vote to take a step toward approving the shelter.

“I’m gonna do whatever I can to make sure City Hall understands this isn’t a faceless population. This isn’t an empty building. People live here,” Hoatlin said. “You can say what you want about the building, but it’s home. And there’s 100 people up there who will tell you the same thing.”

This story was updated on April 22, 2019 to correct the name of the apartment building Ridgeway Studios.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.