The Homeless

Sacramento mayor demands ‘great urgency’ to fix harsh living conditions at Capitol Park Hotel

Bedbugs. No water. Broken elevators. See the living conditions inside Capitol Park Hotel

Elderly residents say they are struggling with bedbugs, fleas, no water and broken elevators at the Capitol Park Hotel on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. "We are getting to the point where it's almost unlivable," said George Green, 76.
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Elderly residents say they are struggling with bedbugs, fleas, no water and broken elevators at the Capitol Park Hotel on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. "We are getting to the point where it's almost unlivable," said George Green, 76.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and City Council members on Tuesday demanded their housing authority address harsh conditions in downtown’s Capitol Park Hotel “with great urgency” following a Sacramento Bee report that elderly and disabled residents of the historic hotel are living with bedbug infestations and broken elevators.

Steinberg on Tuesday directed the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency to provide a public report by Friday on a myriad of issues that residents of the single-room occupancy hotel are experiencing, including broken elevators, bedbugs, cockroaches and water shutoffs.

“There are real issues with this hotel and they must be dealt with with great urgency,” Steinberg said during a meeting of the council’s Budget and Audit Committee.

Steinberg also asked the housing agency, which answers to the City Council and Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, to produce weekly public reports posted online detailing the status of those issues. The hotel is being converted into a homeless shelter and Steinberg also asked for reports on how many current residents have been relocated to make way for the homeless and how many shelter guests have moved in.

Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown, urged SHRA Executive Director LaShelle Dozier to address health and safety issues quickly in the future.

“We’re dammed if we do and we’re dammed if we don’t. If we don’t move forward with the shelter, then we’ll be criticized for that. If we do move forward and it’s not perfect, then we have to worry about perfect being the enemy of the good,” Hansen told Dozier. “Just like the Capitol Park Hotel is not far from here, it’s not far from the Capitol, and it will be an example, good bad or ugly, of how we do this.”

City and SHRA officials plan to start moving homeless people into the hotel in the coming weeks, but the air conditioning is spotty, the elevators are out of order, and roach and bedbug infestations have worsened, residents told The Bee.

The elevators are being repaired, and crews are spraying weekly for pests, Dozier said.

But spraying often does not eliminate bedbugs, said Councilman Larry Carr.

“LaShelle, sounds like you’ve inherited a bucket of worms here,” Carr said. “Bedbugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of.”

Hansen, who proposed the hotel be used as a shelter, questioned Dozier on why SHRA didn’t tell him and city staff that the hotel had been without water for more than 24 hours last week. He also asked what the agency can do if its property management contractor, The John Stewart Company, does not address issues promptly.

“Unlike most SROs, we are in first position here to be responsible for and proactive about it,” Hansen said.

When the council voted in April to spend $23 million to open and operate the shelter, $13 million of which it expects to be reimbursed for, the plan was to operate up to 180 homeless shelter beds for 18 months. Steinberg and Hansen had noted that it would be the largest city-run shelter to open to date. But with the delay in opening and apartment renovations starting in October 2020, the shelter will not be open 18 months. And it likely will not accommodate 180 beds.

Steinberg asked for Friday’s report to also address that, and include updated details on city financing.

“We should not be paying for the part that relates to the broader (apartment) goals here,” Steinberg said.

The hotel has 180 rooms, but about half of them were not being used in April when the city announced the shelter plan. Many of the vacant rooms are unusable because they are flooded or filled with bedbug-infested mattresses, hotel residents told The Bee.

During an SHRA board meeting last month, officials said the plan was only to renovate the lobby, not the rooms.

“Because everything is gonna go through a major rehabilitation, we’re not putting any money into the rooms themselves,” SHRA Assistant Director MaryLiz Paulson said during the meeting Aug. 7. “The rooms are as they are.”

Roughly 75 residents are still living in the hotel and there may not be many rooms available for the homeless. When a reporter visited the hotel Thursday, crews were painting and renovating a handful of rooms. Hansen urged the agency to fill as many rooms as possible with shelter guests.

“I don’t think we have a choice of not putting these rooms to good use. This is the only shelter that I know of right now that is gonna be up prior to this winter,” Hansen said. “We certainly don’t wanna cause unintended harm to the residents who are still not yet relocated, but we wanna try to help more people than just the people living in the Capitol Park Hotel.”

Sacramento Steps Forward, the county’s primary homeless service coordinator, and the police department’s homeless outreach team have identified numerous homeless people living downtown to be placed in the shelter when it opens, Dozier said. Shelter guests and residents will receive meals, along with medical, mental health and rehousing services, officials have said. Guests will be allowed to bring their partners and possessions, but no children or pets will be allowed.

A contractor has been hired to help relocate current residents, but none have been moved yet with that assistance.

“Nobody is going to be asked to leave who’s a current resident there unless and until there is another place that meets their desire and specification and is safe. Is that correct?” Steinberg asked Dozier.

“That is correct,” Dozier said. “No one will be asked to leave. They can stay, if they want to, until the time the hotel actually transitions (to apartments) or they can exercise the option for relocation immediately.”

Carr asked if SHRA was “staffed up” to handle the project.

“In all honestly, yes we are, but it required me to really pull my most experienced staff from their other roles to step into this,” Dozier said. “Then I had to back fill their old jobs. They’ve done a herculean effort.”

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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.