Eulalio Canella of Davis has spent the past two decades without a permanent place to call home. After losing his job, he said he slept on sidewalks, in front of businesses or “wherever I could lay my head down.”
“I was in a tent, a sleeping bag. I had to move from place to place all the time,” the 50-year-old Sacramento native said this week. “That runs a person down after a while.”
Starting this month, Canella and dozens of other unhoused residents in Davis will have a new chance at stability. They’ll be able to move into an innovative homeless housing project called Paul’s Place, about a mile north of the city’s downtown.
Paul's Place, a new homeless housing project, pictured in Davis, Calif on Jan. 28, 2023.Kevin Gomez Jr.
On Wednesday, city officials and project organizers celebrated the opening of the 4-story building, which includes a homeless resource center and four emergency shelter beds on the ground floor.
The second level has 10 transitional housing units, while there are a combined 18 permanent supportive housing apartments on the third and fourth floors. Organizers say resources from job training to mental health and addiction services will be provided onsite and on a referral basis to all residents who need them.
Experts say homeless housing projects in California sometimes combine apartments and services but rarely offer the range of housing types all together at one site.
Paul’s Place organizers say they hope that variety will inspire residents to move from one floor to the next as they become increasingly self-reliant.
Bill Pride, executive director of Davis Community Meals and Housing, gives a tour of Paul's Place in Davis, Calif. on Jan. 28, 2023.Kevin Gomez Jr.
“I think part of the idea is to get across to folks there is a path forward,” said Bill Pride, executive director of Davis Community Meals and Housing, which owns and operates Paul’s Place. The nonprofit has provided services for those in need on the same site since the 1990s.
“Here, it’s kind of a linear path,” added Pride, during a tour of the building last week. “You can go from being on the streets and doing the first floor to being on the second floor — the transitional housing, which is a program to help folks get stabilized. And then on the third and fourth floor you have the [permanent] housing that they could eventually attain.”
The building, whose walls are painted sky blue, gold, white and gray, is named after Pride’s late father, Paul, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war who suffered from mental illness. Pride said he hopes the center can offer residents the healing his father never received.
Residents won’t be alone on their journey at Paul’s Place. Trained staff will be onsite 24/7 providing case management and connecting residents with mental health, employment and addiction services.
“That’s what’s going to make it successful,” said Becky Marigo, who will serve as its program director.
Staff will hold weekly meetings with residents to discuss progress searching for jobs and health needs, including emotional well-being, so they’re “not just sitting in an apartment alone,” Marigo explained. She added that support structure alone won’t prevent people from falling back into homelessness, but will reduce the likelihood.
Pride said sobriety is not a requirement to live at Paul’s Place, though residents won’t be allowed to drink or use drugs in common areas.
The fourth floor of Paul's Place, a new housing project in Davis, Calif., under construction on Jan. 28, 2023.Kevin Gomez Jr.
Will it be effective?
Advocates for people experiencing homelessness say it’s crucial to combine housing with services. But some questioned the Davis project and its plan to combine multiple types of housing under one roof, especially if some residents are trying to stay clean and sober, while others are using.
“Mixing populations just takes a lot of education,” said Bob Erlenbusch, who heads the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness. “For somebody who used to drink but went to AA and became clean and sober, usually those people do not want to be around people who are using.”
Pride said staff will step in when there’s disruptive behavior. They’ll use security cameras to monitor areas outside the building, which has separate entrances for each level of housing.
“In my experience, we’re going to have problems,” Pride said. “I know it’s not going to be everybody. It’s probably just going to be a very small number of folks but I would anticipate that we may have to ask some folks to leave.”
Margot Kushel directs UC San Francisco’s Homelessness and Housing research initiative. She said mixing different groups at Paul’s Place won't doom the project.
“I don’t see it as a particularly big red flag,” Kushel said. “I think that that is true in any shelter or in any permanent supportive housing building: There are going to be people at different points on their journey.”
She said the focus on permanent housing at Paul’s Place will provide a huge benefit to the Davis community.
The most recent Point-In-Time Count shows the city has only about 200 unhoused residents, but also has some of the highest rents in the Sacramento region. The average monthly rent for a 960-square foot apartment in Davis is $2,513, according to the apartment listing service RentCafe.com. It’s $1,855 for a similar apartment in Sacramento.
“The answer to the problem,” Kushel added, “is housing.”
Pride said Paul’s Place was funded largely through private donations, which offers the nonprofit more flexibility in how to run the center.
Sutter Health, for example, provided a $2.5 million matching grant for the $5 million project. Other contributors included the Partnership HealthPlan of California, the city of Davis, Yolo County, local businesses, nonprofits, area residents and faith-based organizations.
Excited and apprehensive to move in
The design at Paul’s Place focuses on more than just private rooms and beds. The building also has large windows, balconies and wide-open communal kitchens, along with showers and laundry facilities.
Outside, a brightly painted red H rests above the entrance. The letter started as a symbol for nearby H Street, but project architect Maria Ogrydziak said it’s taken on new meaning.
A brightly painted red H rests above the enterance of Paul's Place, a new homeless housing project, pictured in Davis, Calif on Jan. 28, 2023. Chris Nichols / CapRadio
“It’s also a goal post for people, ‘You’re here. You can make it,’” she said. “The H also stands for home and for hope.”
“I do feel it matters — what you build and how you build it,” Ogrydziak continued, citing the open design. “I believe it changes a person’s way of thinking about themself.”
George Cox, who has been without a permanent home since July 2021, says he is looking forward to moving into a transitional housing unit at Paul’s Place.Chris Nichols / CapRadio
George Cox said he’s already inspired by Paul’s Place. For the past eight months, the Yuba City native has lived with roommates at a temporary homeless shelter next door to the new facility.
He’s slated to move into a private transitional housing unit on the second floor later this month.
“I’m excited and I’m apprehensive at the same time,” Cox said, taking a break from his volunteer work preparing meals at the shelter. “It’s a lot more independence for me. I’m ready to make that step now. I’ve been living with roommates. You know, you kind of cherish the moment you get to have your own place.”
“We’re all looking forward to moving in,” added Canella, the man who has spent two decades unhoused. “Having a roof over your head and a door you can close and feel safe … it takes a lot of stress off.”
Pride says his staff will determine who will live at Paul’s Place by meeting with unhoused residents who already receive services from his Davis nonprofit. Marigo, the project’s program director, added that the nonprofit will select people who want to and are ready to take the next step toward housing.
The nonprofit expects all four floors to be full by this spring.
For more information about Paul’s Place, visit paulsplacedavis.org or email Bill Pride at [email protected]
Contact CapRadio reporter Chris Nichols at [email protected]
Editor’s Note: Sutter Health is a major donor to CapRadio.
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