A divided vote for shelter

City moves ahead with two new shelter sites, exploration of safe parking program

This story has been expanded from its print version. Raheem F. Hosseini contributed to this report.

Tensions between Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and outgoing District 8 City Councilman Larry Carr didn’t ease up Aug. 27, when council members made a split decision to move ahead with new triage shelters in the Oak Park and Meadowview neighborhoods.

Carr and Steinberg had been debating each other in the weeks leading up to last week’s vote, specifically about locating one triage shelter on property near the Pannell Meadowview Community Center. A number of Meadowview residents oppose the project, citing a host of concerns. Steinberg said after meeting with stakeholders, he altered the project to serve only women and children and to strictly prohibit nearby camping, “street feeding,” drug sales and drug use.

“We don’t have time to wait,” the mayor said before the vote. “Winter will be here very soon.”

Steinberg also cited a letter from the interim director of Saint John’s Program for Real Change, noting that more than 300 women were waiting to get into its shelter. According to the latest tally of homeless dead from the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, more women are dying on the streets than in at least 17 years and they’re dying young, at an average age of 43.

Carr said that while he briefly considered getting behind the mayor’s amended proposal, feedback from his Meadowview constituents persuaded him not to support it.

“It’s my view that low-barrier homeless shelters don’t belong in neighborhoods,” Carr said. Turning to Steinberg, he added, “You live in District 7? I’m asking you to find a site in your neighborhood.”

The mayor dropped down to his microphone and replied, “Happily.”

The Meadowview shelter passed on a 6-3 vote, with Carr, Angelique Ashby and Allen Warren voting against it. At the same meeting, the council also approved a new triage shelter under the W/X freeway underpass at Alhambra Boulevard on a 7-2 vote.

Before the night was over, Councilman Rick Jennings led the charge to explore developing a safe parking program where homeless people could legally sleep in their cars. His chief of staff told council members that existing models in San Jose and San Diego include bathrooms and space for service providers. The council directed the city manager to propose a framework and budget.

“When you take a look at an important fact, that there was a 62% increase from 2017 to 2018 of people who were living in their cars … if we don’t do something to put them in a safe environment, then we have risks we don’t want,” Jennings said.