When a homeless shelter opened in my neighborhood, I was skeptical. Now I’m gratified

Here’s a look inside the North Sacramento homeless shelter

The first 50 of about 200 homeless people occupying a shelter on Railroad Drive in North Sacramento arrived Friday, Dec. 8. The shelter has sparked controversy among nearby residents and business owners.
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The first 50 of about 200 homeless people occupying a shelter on Railroad Drive in North Sacramento arrived Friday, Dec. 8. The shelter has sparked controversy among nearby residents and business owners.

When I first learned of the “low-barrier triage” homeless shelter being proposed on Railroad Drive in North Sacramento, I was skeptical. When the community met with Mayor Darrell Steinberg, he promised that Railroad would be the beginning of a city-wide effort to finally address chronic homelessness in Sacramento.

He promised targeted outreach, garbage mitigation and an additional public safety presence. Though I was still concerned about the city’s ability to deliver these things, I agreed to support the shelter because we needed to do something. I was tired of watching our most vulnerable neighbors live in deplorable conditions throughout the city with nowhere for them to go.

It’s been a little over a year since the Railroad shelter opened, and I can truly say I don’t regret supporting it. Though there are still people camped on the other side of the levee by Railroad, there are far fewer than in previous years. There are fewer homeless people in our parks, and we very rarely encounter camps on vacant private land. Some folks still rummage through garbage cans, but not as many. Our fears that a deluge of homeless people would descend upon North Sacramento simply never materialized.

Railroad is far from perfect, but it has demonstrated one thing without any doubt whatsoever: its ability to serve those in the homeless population who have historically been the most difficult to get into shelters.

The patchwork system of non-low-barrier shelters that comprised our effort to address homelessness before Railroad have always had the same problems. There have always been barriers to entry that disqualified large numbers of people for reasons like having too many things, being with a partner, owning a pet or not being sober.


Railroad changed all of that. As promised, the Impact Team provided dedicated resources that targeted outreach in the North Sacramento and Northgate areas. Because it was referral-only, they were able to focus on the most vulnerable people in the greatest need and get them into Railroad with available space being their only limiting factor. In addition, the city contracted with the Downtown Streets Team, which has an innovative program to employ homeless people to clean up litter in the community regardless of whether it stems from homelessness.

We have kept an open dialogue with city staff about ways to improve the shelter.. They have been receptive. For example, North Sacramento neighbors overwhelmingly believed that 200 beds were too many for a single location. The mayor and staff listened, cutting the number of beds down to 100 at Railroad and using that as the model for future shelters.

Andy Hernandez.jpg
Andy Hernandez

It has been gratifying to see members of my community individually coming together to find ways to make the shelter a more comfortable place for residents.

The Railroad shelter has a TV area with comfortable seating, Wi-Fi and even a small computer lab – all donated by members of the North Sacramento community. We will continue to engage with both the city and the operator to find opportunities to improve the experience in both the Railroad shelter and the model itself.

The mayor has kept his promise to expand the shelter model across the city. The plan that he presented on Feb.12 is comprehensive. It both builds upon the successes of Railroad and tweaks for the things that the city has learned along the way.

It’s not a panacea for addressing homelessness by any means, but it’s the logical first step and a thoughtful, neighborhood-centric approach to taking care of the most vulnerable in our communities.

It’s my hope that the council will adopt this plan and that the neighborhoods of this great city will come together and all be a part of this ambitious plan to address chronic homelessness.

Andy Hernandez and his family have lived in Woodlake since 2002. He is an active volunteer for many North Sacramento causes and currently serves as President of Woodlake Neighborhood Association.