A project designed to house 125 homeless people at a tiny home village in South Sacramento stalled this week after dozens of neighbors spoke out against the plans during a county hearing.
The delay comes two weeks after the county issued a media advisory suggesting the Board of Supervisors would approve the project at Florin and Power Inn roads. But supervisors, by a 4-1 vote on Tuesday, pushed back their decision until June saying the county had failed to do enough public outreach and citing neighborhood opposition.
“This is really revealing how difficult this road is going to be,” Supervisor Rich Desmond said following more than two hours of public comment, during which nearby residents and business owners said they felt bringing more homeless people into the area would jeopardize public safety.
If eventually approved, the $7.6 million project would be the county’s first “Safe Stay Community,” offering what officials hope will be greater privacy and security for the homeless people who move in. Unhoused residents often reject large group shelters due to unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
One or two adults would live in each of the 100 shed-sized tiny homes. The county would provide onsite case management, meals, showers, bathrooms and 24-7 security. It would be considered a “stepping stone” to permanent housing and remain open for up to two years, county homeless initiatives director Emily Halcon said earlier this month.
Several speakers at the hearing said they attend the Vietnamese Martyrs Church across the street from and just east of the proposed village. They said the homeless center presents a hazard for children at the church’s onsite daycare center.
“It’s a good concept but a bad location,” said Ted Nguyen, who said he is a father of three young daughters and a member of the church. “We are aware of the urgency of addressing the situation with the homelessness … but the location compromises the safety of our kids.”
Other residents such as Lorretta Schopf said both the idea and location are flawed.
“You put this facility there, it will become a slum,” Schopf told the board. “You probably have a mandate to get the homeless out of the town or wherever. But those of you who think it’s a fine idea, you put it in your backyard.”
Rather than building more shelters, she called on the county to place people experiencing homelessness in mental health centers.
In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced a plan that would compel treatment for as many as 12,000 people with severe mental illness and drug addiction — including many experiencing homelessness. The state Senate Judiciary Committee passed legislation for the plan, known as CARE Court, earlier this week. The full Legislature must still approve Senate Bill 1338 before Newsom can sign it into law.
CARE Court would require what the Newsom administration calls “a housing plan” for participants who need it. But it would be up to a civil court judge to order local governments to provide housing, as not all participants are expected to be homeless.
In contrast to the criticism of the village plan at the board hearing, several unhoused people living in tents near the site said the concept sounded promising. The village would sit on the concrete pad of a now demolished grocery store.
Ruby Lozoya said she’s been homeless for more than a decade and currently lives at a city-sanctioned encampment at Miller Regional Park. She said she was at the proposed village site in South Sacramento on Tuesday because she said she heard it might get approved.
When asked about neighborhood opposition, Lozoya said: “I think they should give us a chance because we’re human beings too.”
“Just because we’re homeless and we’ve had something happen to us in our life, that doesn’t mean that we can’t get back on track,” she added. “And with a little guidance and some programs we can do that. But if they’re not going to let us do that, then how can we get a chance? Everybody deserves a second chance.”
City and county elected leaders have said more urgency is needed to address the region’s homelessness crisis, but they’ve struggled to match that call for action with results. It took the city, for example, nearly a year to open a single new outdoor homeless shelter despite passing plans last summer to establish 20 such locations.
County supervisors in February even voted to declare “a shelter crisis,” a designation intended to speed up the development of homeless shelter sites. Supervisor Patrick Kennedy cited that declaration when he cast the lone vote to approve the tiny home village, instead of delaying it.
“This is the greatest humanitarian crisis facing our community,” Kennedy said at the hearing. “We hear all the time, ‘How come the county’s not doing anything?’ And we know we are, we know we have programs. And this [tiny home village] is another step toward doing something that I think is vitally important.”
Sacramento County’s most recent Point-In-Time [PIT] homeless count in 2019 found more than 5,500 people were homeless, a 19% increase over two years. The survey is organized by the nonprofit Sacramento Steps Forward and 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 later this spring. Homeless advocates expect it will show a significant increase given the region’s continued lack of affordable housing.
Supervisor Phil Serna’s district borders the project location, but he said he couldn’t support the plans this week because county staff had only recently briefed him about them. He urged officials to do more public outreach ahead of the next potential vote, set for June 8. Several residents also said they had just found out about the proposal.
County officials had expected the tiny home village to open by the end of the summer if supervisors had approved plans this week. The delay means it won’t open until the end of November at the earliest, officials said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of resident Lorretta Schopf. It has been corrected.
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