Starting this week, people experiencing homelessness in Sacramento will have a new option for connecting with services and temporary shelter.
The city plans to open its Outreach and Engagement Center full-time on Thursday at 3615 Auburn Boulevard in northeast Sacramento. The facility, located at the city’s former Powerhouse Science Center and Museum, was used earlier this year as a weather respite shelter, opening for 10 days during this month’s record heatwave.
It will not operate as a walk-in center and it won’t be for long-term stays. Instead, outreach teams will refer people to it and guests will stay for three or four days, not weeks or months, city officials said.
“It is a full service center that will allow up to 50 people at a time to not only come off the streets and get a daily and nightly respite,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg, “but more importantly, or as importantly, to get the services, the navigation, the help that they need to end their homelessness.”
The shelter includes a computer center where staff can help guests access needed documents for medical and other benefits, a dining room, restrooms, showers, separate dormitory areas for men and women along with storage areas for guests’ belongings and a kennel for their pets.
Coloring books are available to soothe guests at the new unhoused respite center in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
Steinberg acknowledged the center is only one step in addressing Sacramento’s homelessness crisis. “We need about 10 more of these facilities throughout the city and the county,” he added.
A survey published in June counted nearly 9,300 homeless people countywide, a 67% increase since 2019.
In recent months, city and county elected leaders have approved plans for some new shelters and tiny home communities. But they’ve also adopted several new enforcement measures, amid growing calls from the public and business community to remove the region’s homeless encampments.
In August, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved two ordinances that will outlaw homeless encampments along the American River Parkway, near schools, libraries and other areas supervisors deemed “critical infrastructure.” Also last month, the City Council voted to increase the penalty for blocking Sacramento sidewalks or building entrances from an infraction to a misdemeanor, a move that targets homeless camps.
Steinberg has generally supported those measures but offered a warning about them this week.
“Until we commit to actually offering people a place and a way out of homelessness, until we make that commitment, none of those enforcement efforts are actually going to provide the relief to the community that the community rightfully expects,” he said.
Erin Johansen, chief executive officer of Hope Cooperative, the nonprofit that will run the Auburn Boulevard shelter, said nonprofit staff will assist guests and monitor the center at all hours to ensure it remains safe. Unhoused residents often reject offers of shelter due to safety concerns.
Johansen added that the center’s staff is trained in de-escalation and that additional security will be on the premises.
She said the center will not provide drug addiction or mental health treatment, though staff will assess and then link guests to outside treatment services. Sobriety, she said, is not a requirement to enter the facility, though guests can not use illegal drugs or alcohol on site.
Housing Coordinator Sarah Stofer was once unhoused in Sacramento County, and now works providing services to unhoused residents, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
“When they come in here,” Johansen said during a media tour of the center on Tuesday, “they’re going to find safety. They’re going to find compassion. They’re going to find a connection to those desperately needed services.”
Sarah Stofer, the site’s housing coordinator, said she knows how powerful those services can be. Stofer said she was homeless in Sacramento and Rancho Cordova for about five years before staff at the Rancho Cordova Police Department connected her with housing.
“If it wasn’t for programs like this one, I wouldn’t be where I am right now,” Stofer said, standing in the wildflower garden she planted on the center’s grounds. “You know, I was living in a tent three years ago. Now, I have my own place. I have a brand new car. I have life, I have hopes and dreams that I actually have a shot at achieving.”
“Personally, I want to see other people like me get that chance,” she added.
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