City Beat

Large homeless shelters are coming to Sacramento. Where remains to be seen.

Homeless in Sacramento

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

Local homeless service providers want to open two shelters this winter with about 300 total beds to serve a growing number of people living on Sacramento streets.

Both facilities would be open 24 hours a day and allow pets inside – features that may convince those most resistant to shelters to move inside.

However, officials have declined to identify their preferred locations, even as the Sacramento City Council prepares Tuesday to discuss a hefty financial contribution.

The shelters – which will help ease the city’s mass shortage of cold weather refuge – are part of a homeless package the council will discuss. The council could provide $180,110 to First Step Communities to operate a 150-bed shelter. That facility would replace the 100-bed Winter Sanctuary program that for the past several years has rotated among local houses of worship.

The city may also partner with another service provider to open a separate 150-bed shelter adjacent or close to the First Step facility. That shelter would be open from Thanksgiving through March at a cost of roughly $500,000, according to a city staff report. The City Council is not being asked to approve either shelter Tuesday, but instead provide direction to city staff on whether to solidify the proposals.

Stephen Watters, executive director of First Steps, said there is “a site that the city and I looked at” for the shelter. He said he has been asked not to divulge the location.

Watters said the shelter would fill a 20,000-square-foot “commercial site” and that the city’s second shelter would fill a building of roughly the same size.

“What we’re trying to do, unless someone is unable to control their behaviors, is we’ll try to get them in there and try to get them off the streets,” Watters said.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said city officials could not identify the locations because they are in talks with Sacramento County about the operation of the Winter Sanctuary shelter. He said the city is in “ongoing discussions and negotiations” regarding the site for the second 150-bed shelter.

County spokeswoman Laura McCasland said the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to approve contracting with First Step Communities to run the Winter Sanctuary program in October. She said details, including the location, are being worked out.

“I’m confident that by the beginning of winter, we’re going to have hundreds of additional shelter beds,” Steinberg said. “We can provide significant relief from the beginning of winter, but we can’t stop there.”

About 2,000 people were living outside during a one-night count of the homeless population conducted in January. Nearly 1,700 more were living without permanent shelter. Steinberg said the increased shelter space under consideration is a “very aggressive” start, but that he isn’t yet satisfied.

“Every step, every new initiative – it’s all adding a piece to the system and we need every part of it,” he said.

In addition to the new winter beds, city staff are exploring a new permanent shelter option.

They will present plans Tuesday for a 24-hour “triage shelter,” a more permanent facility that could serve beyond 200 homeless men and women. City Council members have expressed support for the model over an outdoor shelter, such as a tent city.

According to the staff report, a potential site for a triage shelter “has risen to the top, in terms of availability, cost, location and size.” The report said the city is interested in buying the building and could open the shelter by next summer.

The potential triage shelter site is not identified in the staff report. It could cost up to $2.6 million to buy and rehabilitate the building, plus another $3 million a year to operate the shelter.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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