The Homeless

Homeless begin moving into downtown Sacramento hotel. Have conditions improved?

‘I got a roof over my head.’ Homeless move into Capitol Park Hotel

Yolanda Villanueva, 60, who was homeless since July, shows the room she moved into on the sixth floor at the Capitol Park Hotel in downtown Sacramento on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019.
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Yolanda Villanueva, 60, who was homeless since July, shows the room she moved into on the sixth floor at the Capitol Park Hotel in downtown Sacramento on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019.

Ten homeless men and women moved into the Capitol Park Hotel in downtown Sacramento this week. By the end of the month, about 100 more will join them, officials say.

Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency and Volunteers of America staff have moved the ten people into newly-cleaned rooms on the sixth floor of the historic hotel at the corner of Ninth and L streets. The rooms include two new twin beds each, dressers, and nightstands. Several toilets and faucets have been replaced and rooms were sprayed for bedbugs.

There are still 73 residents living at the single room occupancy hotel, many of whom are elderly and disabled. Last week, eight of those residents told The Sacramento Bee conditions inside the hotel have worsened since SHRA took over this summer. Last week, residents lost water for more than 24 hours. They were also dealing with elevators that were out of order, spotty air conditioning and a cockroach and bedbug infestation.

In response to a Bee story, Mayor Darrell Steinberg on Tuesday demanded SHRA address issues with “great urgency,” and provide weekly public reports on the project. The first update is due Friday.

SHRA on Thursday offered the 24 current residents with mobility issues to be relocated to another hotel during the two weeks until the main elevator is repaired, said SHRA Executive Director LaShelle Dozier.

Among the homeless individuals who moved in this week was Yolanda Villanueva, 60, who became homeless for the first time in July when her landlord raised her rent in her midtown apartment at 17th and L streets from $1,000 to $1,500 a month, she said. She’s been sleeping outdoors in a tent and couch surfing ever since, but was worried about what to do this winter, especially since she is 60 years old and suffers from bone cancer.

“I was crying last week saying, ‘What’s gonna happen? It’s gonna get cold,’” she said while eating a provided lunch of pizza and salad at a table in the hotel’s new bright and airy community room – formerly a soup and salad bar. “I was devastated. This is a good first step.”

Staff are working to help her find housing at the downtown YWCA low-income housing facility for single women, she said. Shelter guests will receive rehousing, mental health and medical services at the 107-year-old hotel.

David Nelson, 76, who suffers from lung issues, said staff offered to relocate him to another hotel on Thursday morning, but he declined the offer because he is worried about losing his possessions.

There is a secondary elevator that residents with mobility issues can use, but it’s not convenient for his room and he often sees large groups waiting for it to get turned on. So he still takes the stairs up to his third floor room.

Crews offered to spray each unit for bedbugs and other pests Wednesday, but 24 residents declined, Dozier said. Staff tried again Thursday and planned to try again Friday.

Jimmy Garlin, 72, said he stayed in his unit all day Wednesday, and no crews came. He also says no one has offered him another place to stay.

“Believe me, no one has come to my door to offer to spray my room,” Garlin said. “I would say, come in and spray, please.”

The air conditioning is down again, since Wednesday, but crews are working to fix it, Dozier said.

On Thursday, a man fixing a plumbing issue sweated as sun flooded into a sixth-floor room. Several toilets were stacked on a cart in the hallway. A VOA official offered him a fan, but he declined.

“We’ve been struggling with a lot of issues, and we’re working hard to get them taken care of,” Dozier said.

Staff are also working to install working fire sprinkler heads and carbon dioxide detectors, Dozier said. Some units did not have those required items when SHRA’s lease for the building took effect this summer, Dozier said.

“We’re doing our due diligence,” Dozier said.

The city is spending about $23 million to open and operate the shelter, though expects Mercy Housing to reimburse it for $13 million of that amount. Mercy Housing plans to heavily renovate the building into apartments for formerly homeless. Construction on that project is set to start in October 2020, when all shelter guests and SRO residents will need to leave.

A relocation company is providing SRO residents with relocation assistance and helping them find new places to live, Dozier said. If they want, all 73 could stay at the hotel until the end of October 2020, while it is a shelter. If they do, the hotel will house about 100 homeless people.

Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown, proposed the project in April in response to a request from Steinberg for all eight council members to find sites for new shelters in their districts. At the time, they said it could house up to 180 homeless people and stay open for 18 months. It was set to open in July, but was delayed. It’s now set to stay open for 14 months.

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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.