With Cal Expo Shelter Gone, Homeless Turn to Motels

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
It’s not a five-star hotel, but for Tim Gotwalt and Michelle Cody, Midtown Sacramento’s Vagabond Inn will do just fine – especially, they say, after their Carmichael apartment’s new landlord raised the rent last month, forcing them out. After all, Gotwalt says, if they couldn’t stay here …
Gotwalt: “Me and her would be out in the street, sleeping under the bridge or just somewhere try to keep warm.”
The couple moved in earlier this month after getting a voucher from local officials – one of a hundred available to homeless people this winter. Tim Brown runs the city and county of Sacramento’s effort to combat homelessness. He says he and other officials spent the last couple weeks trying to get as many people into the motels as possible.
Brown: “Putting 80 folks into motels is no small task, keeping track of everybody and problem solving. And it’s going well so far. People are really grateful. Here it is a few weeks before Christmas and at least they got a warm place to stay on some really cold nights.”
The vouchers are just one part of a strategy to replace the traditional Winter Shelter at Cal Expo. The county’s budget crisis forced supervisors to cut the shelter’s funding this year. Last month, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson announced that officials had found new beds to replace the shelter. But not all are ready yet – including a hundred at a popular Rancho Cordova housing and job training program. Rancho Cordova spokeswoman Nancy Pearl says it’s up to the county to get the housing units fit to live in:
Pearl: “We would want to ensure that these residences would meet standard and would meet codes and be habitable. Right now, they’re not safe and they’re not fit for human habitation.”
Sacramento County supervisors will vote on whether to fund those renovations next week. In the meantime, Tim Brown says officials are doing everything they can under difficult circumstances.
Brown: “This whole thing has been a two-month scramble, basically, to put together a whole new system of winter shelter beds. And we really hoped we’d be up by Thanksgiving and some of it was. We’re just thrilled to get whatever we can get, frankly.”
Last winter, the Cal Expo shelter housed around 150 beds. Right now, there’s roughly the same number available – between shelters like the Salvation Army and the motel vouchers. Brown’s hoping to double that number by the end of the year. But that won’t help anyone during this week’s sub-freezing nights.