Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has identified the next spot where he wants to open a large homeless shelter, but the councilman representing the area is vehemently opposed to it.
During a tense community meeting Monday in Meadowview, Steinberg proposed building a 100-bed shelter on a city-owned parking lot at the corner of Meadowview Road and Coral Gables Court, next to the Pannell Community Center.
“We chose this site after an exhaustive search by staff of all city-owned properties,” Steinberg said in a statement to The Sacramento Bee. “It’s paved, has access to utilities and sewer service and is large enough to provide outdoor space for guests and their pets. I would not advocate putting a shelter here if I thought it would hurt the neighborhood. Meadowview already has a substantial homeless population, and we would focus on bringing them in indoors.”
The shelter would cost the city about $10.1 million, according to a city staff report. That includes about $3.8 million for construction and $6.3 million for two years of operations.
The shelter would be a “low-barrier triage,” shelter, meaning people could bring their pets, partners and possessions. Shelter residents would not be screened for drugs and alcohol to be admitted.
That’s the part that most concerns Councilman Larry Carr, who represents Meadowview.
“Our kids have to walk to and from the Pannell Center to get home,” Carr said. “I’m concerned about it and everyone that I have talked to in this community is concerned about it. No one understands how this makes any rational sense.”
The site is also near a public pool, River Cats Independence Field, several apartment complexes and an incoming charter school, Carr said.
The tent-like shelter could probably be open before the winter, Steinberg said.
The shelter would offer housing, medical and mental health services on the 5-acre site. People who are homeless in the Meadowview area would be given first priority in the shelter, referred to the facility by the police’s homeless team.
“What is our plan? It is not to bring a bunch of people in the shelter, big queuing lines to walk on up, and to come in a shelter and use drugs all day,” Steinberg told a room full of about 200 residents Monday. “Just the opposite.”
Carr said he preferred the city first help the people who “want to be helped,” instead of the “hardest to serve chronically homeless,” that are targeted by the large low-barrier triage shelters Steinberg is pushing.
“They call it a low-barrier shelter,” Carr told the room. “If you got a drug addiction, come on down. If you’re mentally insane, come on down. If you got pit bulls with you, come on down ... And by the way, the shelter is not a jail. That means you can come and go as you please.”
Steinberg, author of the 2004 California Mental Health Services Act and father of a daughter who has spoken about her own battles with mental illness, sat behind Carr shaking his head, appearing to disagree with Carr’s language to describe some segments of the homeless population.
“What we did at Railroad (Drive) and what our plan here is not to just bring a bunch of drug-addicted people, to use the really terrible stereotype,” Steinberg said. “How many people in your families are living with mental illness or have problems? Is anybody really immune?”
The city received 962 calls for service related to homelessness in City Council District 8, which Carr represents, from Jan. 1 to Aug. 5 this year, Steinberg said.
The shelter would be modeled after the city’s Railroad Drive shelter, which closed April 20 after 17 months of operation. That shelter, in a north Sacramento warehouse, cost the city $5 million. Of the 658 people who stayed there, 164 found permanent housing, and an additional 100 found temporary housing, according to city data.
The city is also planning to open a large shelter at the Capitol Park Hotel, where 80 elderly and disabled residents currently live, in September. The city also plans to open shelters at the southeast end of Ethan Way on Cal Expo property, and near the corner of X Street and Alhambra Boulevard, pending state agency approvals. City leaders previously announced a proposal to open a shelter at the Florin Road light rail station, but they have since scrapped that plan.
Carr said he has not found any other sites for a shelter in his south Sacramento district, but has found several parking lots that could be used as “safe parking zones” for homeless who live in their cars to sleep in at night, with services, security, bathrooms and showers.
Instead of large shelters, Carr proposed the city instead bus hundreds of homeless people to “Camp Sacramento,” a city-owned family camp in the Eldorado National Forest that has been around for nearly a century. Steinberg said that would “never happen.”
Carr said he plans to propose a city ordinance that would prohibit homeless shelters be opened within 1,000 feet of residences, schools, community centers and playgrounds. Carr said he did not know if anywhere in the city would be left if such an ordinance were to be enacted.
The Meadowview shelter requires City Council approval.
The City Council is set to vote Tuesday to approve the first step in an up-to-$5 million renovation project at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, in Meadowview, Steinberg noted.
“Improving Meadowview and other neighborhoods in Sacramento is a top priority for me,” Steinberg said in a statement.