City Beat

A homeless shelter in your church? Business groups say hold on

Church volunteer Doreen Hinshaw, middle, and homeless resident Rodrigo Hernandez, right, listen to James Dollson play the piano at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Sacramento on March 2, 2011.
Church volunteer Doreen Hinshaw, middle, and homeless resident Rodrigo Hernandez, right, listen to James Dollson play the piano at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Sacramento on March 2, 2011. aalfaro@sacbee.com

Many of Sacramento’s influential business groups are expressing concern with a city plan to allow churches and other houses of worship to serve as temporary homeless shelters.

The City Council is expected to vote in mid-September on removing language from the city code that prohibits “temporary residential shelters” within 500 feet of religious congregations. Mayor Darrell Steinberg has expressed his support for the change, arguing it could add much-needed shelter space during the cold winter months.

Nearly a dozen business groups sent a letter to Steinberg and the City Council on Monday saying a proposed change in the city code would remove protections enjoyed by “sensitive locations, including parks, schools and family residences.”

“We’ve seen first-hand the unintended impacts rogue operators providing homeless services can have in our neighborhoods as well as on the very population they are intended to serve,” said the letter, signed by the leaders of 11 business groups. Organizations that signed the letter included the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, Midtown Association, River District, Greater Broadway District and Del Paso Boulevard Partnership.

The groups want the city to establish requirements for notifying neighborhoods and schools when a congregation sets up a shelter and explore whether support services should be included. They also wrote that a “fast track approach” to allowing the shelters “sets a dangerous precedent.”

Many houses of worship already shelter homeless families during cold weather in a rotating winter sanctuary program. But the ordinance change would likely allow congregations to shelter the homeless for longer stretches. Churches would likely house up to 20 people under the proposed code change.

Sacramento Bee photographers found a few people willing to tell us why they are homeless.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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