Sacramento is considering a formal permitting process to allow for the creation of more privately-owned temporary housing sites, similar to the current tent city set up in the Alkali Flats neighborhood of downtown.
The potential ordinance could help streamline the process for more private organizations like churches or nonprofits to offer temporary housing, according to Tom Pace, the city’s community development director.
The county’s last Point-in-Time count, a federally mandated tally of the homeless population, showed about 3,900 unsheltered homeless people in Sacramento.
“We know there are people who would like to help, but right now there is no legal way for them to make their properties available for temporary sheltering,” Pace said. “This ordinance would create a legal pathway for us to issue permits or for people who want to help to be able to offer that assistance.”
The majority of the land that the city deemed available the permitting is located within the central city, North Sacramento and the Oak Park and Tahoe Park areas. Pace said they’ve identified several thousand potential sites that could be used for this purpose, though he doesn’t expect that every site would be converted.
Each site was evaluated for eligibility based on if the parcels were a part of a church or faith organization, were zoned for commercial or industrial purposes, and the land’s proximity to schools or day care centers. Each site is also limited in capacity to housing 24 individuals and must have a supervisor on site.
The ordinance also mandates that the sites must provide amenities like electricity, fresh water, bathrooms and waste removal, all to be paid and provided for by the private company.
“They need to have waste removal, and so there are some costs, it’s not a completely free type of situation,” Pace said. “We envision that these sites will require some type of sponsoring organization that’s willing to bear those costs, most likely a non-profit organization or a charitable individual who’s willing to cover those costs.”
But Mark Merin, board member of Safe Ground, the nonprofit that created the tent city in downtown Sacramento, said the proposed ordinance only provides barriers to organizations helping.
“Because there are no incentives to actually do this, there are just obstacles to overcome,” Merin said of the requirements that sites will have to provide water, electricity and waste disposal without city assistance.
“We are paying out of our own pockets $500 a week for somebody to just be present at the site for five hours a day, we’re paying for trucks to haul garbage away,” Merin explained. “So what kind of support can people look to the city for?”
Pace said that he knew this ordinance wouldn’t address the entirety of the city’s homelessness problem.
“This is another potential tool to help assist people who are experiencing homelessness to have a safer place to be,” Pace said. “It’s safer for them and safer for the whole community.”
Pace also acknowledged that there has been pushback from some downtown and midtown business districts as well as neighborhood associations that are worried about site locations. He added the commission will be looking into adding another provision that sites must be located a certain distance from other residential areas.
Councilmember Larry Carr said that while he hasn’t seen the details of the ordinance, his concern was that the city wasn’t thinking big enough in terms of addressing the homelessness problem.
“We talk about temporary transitional housing, we’re talking in the hundreds, and the problem is in the thousands, we have not been able to find a solution by ourselves as a council that addresses the scale of the problem,” Carr said. “In my view, the whole city must be involved if we’re going to solve the homeless issue, and we have to find ways to empower our residents to help solve the problem.”
The city’s Law and Legislation Committee will discuss the ordinance on Tuesday, and it could go before City Council for a vote on October 27.
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