Watch the sparks fly over homeless shelter vote at Sacramento City Council meeting
Large 100-bed homeless shelters will soon open in Meadowview and in North Oak Park, the Sacramento City Council decided Tuesday, for a price tag of more than $20 million.
The shelter under the W-X freeway passed 7-2, with Councilwoman Angelique Ashby and Councilman Larry Carr voting against it, while the Meadowview shelter passed 6-3, with Ashby, Carr and Councilman Allen Warren voting against it.
The Meadowview shelter is set to open this winter, while the shelter at X Street and Alhambra Boulevard is set to open next spring, both offering rehousing and other services. The Meadowview shelter, next to the Pannell Meadowview Community Center on Meadowview Road, will be the first large city shelter that will exclusively serve homeless women and children.
“We are going to bring hundreds of people indoors as quickly as possible and hundreds will turn in to thousands,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.
It will also be the first large city shelter opening in a spot that’s strongly opposed by the council member representing the area.
“Low barrier means they can come in with their addiction, if they have one, with their mental illness if they have one. Is that a good place to put children?” asked Carr, who represents Meadowview.
Ashby echoed those concerns, and also raised issues about placing domestic violence victims into a known location. She instead suggested the city give the millions to nonprofits that already serve homeless women and children, and also to expand funding for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly called Section 8. Tens of thousands apply for those and don’t get a spot.
“If we do this and a child does get hurt, guess who’s liable?” asked Ashby, the only woman and mother on the council. “Us. And someone is gonna stand at that podium and say who the hell thought low barrier for kids was a good idea?”
Sacramento State researchers estimate about 1,150 homeless women and children are living outside or in cars in the city. That number is based on a biennial count of homeless people conducted in January, that found an estimated 5,570 homeless people living in the county — a 19-percent increase from 2016.
“We cannot turn our back on 1,150 homeless women and children this winter,” Steinberg said.
The City Council added the following requirements to both sites: prohibiting “street feeding” outside the shelters, which took place at the Railroad Drive shelter in north Sacramento; requiring the area around it be kept “pristine;” enforce a zero-tolerance policy for drug use and drug sales outside the facility; and create community advisory committees to meet regularly.
The city’s 2035 General Plan, which provides policy guidelines for the city’s growth, says “emergency shelters” and “temporary residential shelters” should be located at least 500 feet from a public park, public or private school, church or single-family residential zone, Carr and many residents pointed out.
“That’s decades of City Councils saying that’s how we wanna develop,” Carr said. “These are the rules we are supposed to go by.”
It’s unclear whether those requirements would apply to the Meadowivew shelter, which would be located less than 500 feet from Genesis Church, a planned K-5 prep school opening in fall 2020 on its campus, as well as apartments and single-family homes.
“Once the Council provides direction on which site(s) they would like the City to investigate further, staff will do the analysis to determine what zoning codes may apply,” city spokesman Tim Swanson said.
The city will spend about $21.3 million to keep both shelters open for two years, according to a city staff report. The Meadowview shelter will cost about $10.1 million, including about $3.8 million for construction and $6.3 million for operations, the report said, though those numbers could change to accommodate children. The W/X freeway shelter will cost an estimated $11.2 million, including about $4.9 million for construction and $6.3 million for operations, the report said.
The funding will come from the state, as well as from the city’s Measure U reserve fund, the report said. City officials set that money aside in case voters rejected the increased Measure U sales tax in November.
Several residents suggested the council instead consider a Regional Transit-owned lot at the corner of Freeport Boulevard and Meadowview Road. The site is technically in Councilman Jay Schenirer’s district, but across the street from Carr’s.
Schenirer has considered the site before, but it needs paving, utilities and Federal Transit Administration approval, which would mean it would not be able to open in time for the winter, said Allison Joe, Schenirer’s chief of staff. Paving alone would take six months, she said.
The FTA said it would never approve a shelter at the Florin Road light rail station, and would likely say the same thing about that site, Schenirer said.
Carr contacted FTA officials to urge them not to approve the Florin Road shelter earlier this year, and they agreed, he has said.
The council also voted Tuesday to add mental health, medical and rehousing services to 180 existing shelter beds at two shelters in the River District; grant about $337,000 to help fund shelter beds for LGBT homeless; $95,000 to help fund 20 shelter beds in Oak Park run by Wind Youth Services; and grant about $20,000 to fund ongoing cleanup of human waste and needles in the River District. The council is also set to allocate $1 million for nonprofits Saint John’s Program for Real Change, in south Sacramento, and City of Refuge, in Oak Park, to serve about 50 additional homeless women and children.
The votes represents a win for Steinberg, who in December asked all eight council members to find locations for 100 shelter beds for their districts. If the converted existing shelter beds are counted, the city is up to more than 600 new shelter beds since Steinberg put out that call.
Councilman Steve Hansen proposed an up to 180-bed shelter at Capitol Park Hotel downtown, which is set to open next month. Councilman Jeff Harris proposed 100-bed shelter on Cal Expo property, though Cal Expo has still not approved it so it’s on hold for now.
Led by Councilman Rick Jennings, the council also directed staff Tuesday to put together a proposal for “safe parking zones” in the city, where homeless people could safely park their cars to sleep at night, with security, bathrooms, showers and rehousing services.
Harris also asked staff to research a “safe ground” model, where people could safely camp in tents. That proposal has been controversial for years and has failed to gain support at City Hall.