Sacramento County has identified 16 locations for potential new homeless shelters, but whether they ever get built is an open question. Advocates for unhoused residents say they probably won’t due to strong community opposition and slow action by the county Board of Supervisors.
Earlier this spring, county staff unveiled plans for building “safe stay communities” including tiny homes, sanctioned homeless parking areas and supportive services for homeless residents. The shelters are meant to help people transition from local encampments to longer-term housing.
Both city and county leaders have acknowledged they don’t have enough shelter space to meet the demand of the region’s growing homeless population.
Still, advocates say the county has moved slower than the city to approve new sites due to the supervisors’ deliberate pace as they seek community input, despite the fact that communities often shut down plans.
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Coalition to End Homelessness, pointed blame at supervisors for showing a lack of urgency and resolve when sites come up for a vote.
“If a supervisor wanted to make this happen in his or her district, it would happen. But there doesn’t seem to be that level of leadership,” Erlenbusch said. “We have thousands and thousands of unhoused neighbors whose lives could be improved if the county would move faster.”
Shelters for those who have said ‘no’ in the past
Seated in the shade on a warm morning near the American River Parkway, Lance Hale said he would welcome the safety and stability of a tiny home.
“Being homeless, it’s not that you can’t work,” Hale said. “It’s that you don’t have anywhere to store your possessions. Or you don’t have an address to actually get from one to two.”
The 37-year-old Sacramento native, who said he’s been without a permanent home for about three years, would be among those who would benefit from the proposed shelters.
County officials say they are actively pursuing spaces for only four of the 16 properties, each of which must receive final approval from the Board of Supervisors before plans can move forward.
Two of the four properties are the South Sacramento site at Florin and Power Inn roads and a county-owned parcel in Carmichael on Marconi Avenue east of Garfield Avenue. The other two are private properties that the county won’t officially identify to avoid complicating possible purchase or lease negotiations with the owner.
But according to a county map, those sites could be in the Lemon Hills neighborhood near Highway 99 and just east of Citrus Heights near Interstate 80.
Emily Halcon, the county’s director of homeless initiatives, says the new shelters, if approved, will be temporary and serve unhoused residents who live nearby. She says the goal is to build non-congregate settings such as tiny homes because unhoused residents are often more willing to accept shelter that provides greater security and privacy compared with group facilities.
“We’re aiming to serve those folks who previously have said ‘no’ to other offers, who have been unwilling or unable to engage in traditional services,” Halcon told supervisors at a May hearing on the proposed sites.
In another effort to reduce barriers, unhoused residents will be allowed to bring their pets and possessions, according to the county.
Even though the county is only exploring these sites as options, there’s already been community pushback.
Days after holding a hearing on the sites — and a subsequent news story in the Sacramento Bee about them — the county said in a news release it had received “numerous calls” from worried residents. That forced the county to clarify that no final decisions would be made without extensive community input.
“Outreach will include community forums to answer questions and hear concerns as well as present plans for any particular site,” the release added. County officials have also published a Frequently Asked Questions document offering more information about the safe stay community plans.
Unlike similar plans developed by the city of Sacramento, the county does not intend to open tent communities, because tiny homes are more secure and weather resistant than tents, according to Halcon.
After several unhoused people were killed during a violent winter storm in 2021, the city of Sacramento adopted a comprehensive homeless siting plan that identified 20 future shelter locations intended to serve 3,600 people experiencing homelessness. But so far, the city has opened just three sites. Only two remain open.
County officials had expected three of their four safe stay shelters could open by the end of this year, and the fourth by next year. But given the delays, Erlenbusch with the Sacramento Coalition to End Homelessness said “it doesn’t seem like they’re going to move forward anytime soon.”
Specifically, the county had expected to open the tiny home village on Florin by the end of the summer. The county even held a media availability to view the materials that would be used to build the homes.
But the board delayed its decision on that project until June following local pushback at an April hearing.
Many Florin area residents like Ted Nyguen told the board they attend a nearby Vietnamese church and send their children to its daycare center. Nyguen and others said they support the concept of the tiny village, but not the location.
“I’m really concerned about the safety of the kids,” he told supervisors.
The board’s delay means the tiny homes won’t open until the end of November at the earliest, officials said.
In February, supervisors declared “a shelter crisis,” a designation intended to speed up the development of homeless shelter sites. That doesn’t mean everything’s moving full speed ahead.
“I certainly share your sense of urgency,” Supervisor Rich Desmond told county staffers in May as they outlined shelter plans. “[But] we cannot compromise urgency for a lack of community engagement.”
Far short of what’s needed
If all four sites being actively considered are eventually approved, they could add up to 375 new homeless shelter spaces. It would cost an estimated $21 million to build all four sites and $12.5 million to operate them each year, according to a county staff report.
But a few hundred new beds is far short of what’s needed. The county has approximately 3,400 shelter and housing beds for people experiencing homelessness, according to a report from the nonprofit California Housing Partnership. Typically all shelter spaces are full on any given day.
Sacramento County’s most recent Point-In-Time [PIT] homeless count in 2019 found more than 5,500 people were homeless, a 19% spike over two years. The survey usually takes place every two years but was canceled last year due to the pandemic.
The 2019 count also estimated that between 10,000 and 11,000 residents countywide experience at least one episode of homelessness during the course of the year.
Volunteers resumed the PIT survey in February. Results from that count will be published in June. Homeless advocates expect it will show a large increase given the region’s continued lack of affordable housing.
“There are perhaps 15,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in Sacramento County at this moment. So creating 375 new beds is only a start,” Rick Eaton, a member of Sacramento Area Congregations Together [Sacramento ACT] told supervisors at the hearing.
Eaton, whose multi-faith organization advocates for more affordable housing, said in a follow-up interview that he’s hopeful county leaders will act more quickly because “the status quo is thoroughly unacceptable.”
“It’s a moral outrage that people are on the streets,” Eaton said. “I’m hopeful that they’ll make the right, courageous decisions.”
Supervisors are scheduled to again consider the South Sacramento tiny home plan at their meeting on June 8.
Contact CapRadio news reporter Chris Nichols at [email protected]
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