Hal Clay likes to paint, play keyboard and riff on the guitar, for which he is entirely self-taught. But just two years ago, he was homeless.
"You can't just find a bed just magically on the street, so you walk around and look for a nice place,” the 21-year-old said while looking at some of his paintings in his art room. “You rest your head where you can rest your head. Maybe it's a bench for the night."
But Clay said sleep was hard to come by because he was constantly worried he might be attacked. You get to be a little “paranoid,” he explained.
If he were homeless today, Clay — a client and employee of the Wind Youth Services nonprofit that helps provide shelter and services for young people — would be eligible to live for free in one of 24 double-occupancy cabins soon to be installed on a vacant lot in north Sacramento.
The cabins come in response to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 100 day challenge for local governments to find homelessness solutions. The city is finalizing plans to erect two dozen Tuff Sheds on the lot, which is adjacent to the St. Paul Church of God In Christ on Grove Street just north of El Camino Boulevard.
The new cabin village could serve some of the city's 240 homeless youth.
Approved at this week’s city council meeting, each cabin will have two windows, a door — and an age restriction: No one over 25 will be allowed.
“We can and will make a significant dent in those transition-age youth between 18 to 24 who want to have housing,” said Tyrone Roderick WIlliams with Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, which is overseeing the project.
The goal is to provide shelter and life-skills training for young people leaving abusive homes, aging out of the foster care system or experiencing homelessness.
The nonprofit First Step Communities will run the program. It also operated the city's winter triage shelter in north Sacramento on Railroad Drive.
Executive director Stephen Watters says the experience at the cabins will be very different than at the winter shelter. “There, you were working with a warehouse being converted into a dormitory,” he said. “Here, what we're doing is something, if it has any relation to a dormitory, it's almost like separate rooms, only we're using sleeping cabins."
The cabins will be Tuff Sheds — they’ve already secured the bid for the project — but the services will be focused solely on the needs of young people.
"There were some challenges [with the winter triage shelter] because we were mixing age groups,” Watters said.
Wind Youth Services will be one of three nonprofits making referrals to the program, along with Lutheran Social Services and Waking the Village. Cosumnes River Community College will also identify students in need of help.
Robynne Rose-Haymer, Wind’s executive director, says it’s common for people experiencing homelessness at this age to have never been taught basic life skills.
"Just like any other type of brand new endeavor, you gotta practice before you are able to achieve some success,” she said.
She says the primary goal of the cabins is stability, with the long-term objective of sustainable stability through planning.
“It is a challenge to help a person understand the value of structure, but I think we do that,” she said.
Young people aging out of the foster care system make up some of the city’s homeless population but not the majority. The last federal Homeless Point In Time count indicated 415 homeless youth in Sacramento County. SHRA says 240 are in the city.
Wind Youth Services says it served 1,100 young people who were experiencing homelessness or in danger of living on the streets last year.
The startup cost to build and operate 24 sheds for two years is $5.6 million. The city is loaning the project nearly $2 million, with the understanding it will be repaid by the state of California's Homeless, Housing, Assistance and Prevention Fund.
The project could double to 50 sheds at a cost of an additional $2 million.
The Tuff Shed village will not include a run for animals, though accommodations may be made for service animals. The property will include trailers for showers and restrooms.
It is expected to welcome its first guests sometime around the first of April.
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