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Board to Consider Temporary Permit for Emergency Homeless Shelter

January 23, 2015

The Placer County Board of Supervisors voted today during a special meeting to further the conversation about allowing a temporary emergency homeless shelter to be opened on county-owned property in North Auburn.

Board members did not make a final decision to allow a nonprofit group known as Right Hand Auburn Inc. to open a shelter, but voted unanimously to consider a temporary conditional use permit at their Feb. 3 meeting that would remove a major obstacle to the group’s shelter proposal.

“This is, I believe, a watershed moment for us,” said Supervisor Jack Duran before the vote.

Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said she strongly supports Right Hand Auburn’s proposal, noting that she and Supervisor Duran met with about 10 homeless residents in December who said they would use the proposed temporary shelter. “It became very clear to me that what we have done to date isn’t working,” she said. “I think we can all agree on that.”    

Right Hand Auburn has proposed opening an emergency shelter in a building that until last year housed minimum-security jail inmates. The building is located at the Placer County Government Center, a county-owned complex commonly known as the DeWitt Center.

If approved, the group would contract with Volunteers of America to operate the shelter and would be responsible for operating and facility-improvement costs.

In addition to considering this temporary shelter, the county has an ongoing homeless needs assessment study currently in development by Marbut Consulting to offer suggestions on a long-term, county-wide solution to the homeless issue. The needs assessment and an action plan are scheduled to be ready for board review in March. 

To move forward with the temporary shelter, a conditional use permit is needed because a homeless shelter is not a permitted use under the site’s heavy commercial zoning. A temporary permit, if approved by the board, would remain in effect for up to one year. Other structural changes would also likely be needed to bring the facility into compliance with building code regulations.

A conditional use permit requires the board to provide at least ten days’ notice to the public, prior to the hearing, so the public has a chance to testify before the board makes a decision. The issue will be heard at 10:30 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers at the County Administrative Center, 175 Fulweiler Drive in Auburn. 

Supervisor Robert M. Weygandt said today he is willing to take another look at the group’s proposal at the Feb. 3 meeting. “Perhaps working together, we can do something a little different, a little more effective,” he explained.

Other supervisors expressed skepticism and concern about neighborhood impacts, as well as the importance that any solution lead to better lives for the homeless. Several speakers addressed the board during public testimony, urging board members to allow the temporary homeless shelter at the DeWitt Center. Others expressed concern about the impacts to the neighborhoods, the barracks proximity to schools and whether registered sex offenders would be permitted to stay at the shelter, if it is approved. 

The intent of today’s special meeting was to allow for a public discussion of temporary shelter options for homeless individuals in Auburn and for the board to hear pros and cons of all possible options in order to make an informed decision.

For the meeting, county staff analyzed the proposal submitted by Right Hand Auburn as well as other options. In a report to the board, staff did not make a recommendation on whether a temporary shelter should be allowed at the DeWitt, since the intent was to allow the board and public to have an informed policy discussion. The staff report added that, if board members opt to support opening a shelter, the former barracks presents fewer immediate challenges than other available county buildings in the Auburn area.

County staff estimates that 30 to 40 homeless individuals in the Auburn area might stay in an emergency shelter at the DeWitt Center. The estimate is based on how many homeless residents took advantage of two short-term options available last month: shelters opened during a major winter storm on Dec. 10-11 and a shelter opened by a local church during the holidays.

A homeless count conducted in 2013 identified approximately 600 homeless individuals in Placer County, including about 350 who were unsheltered.

Placer County and partner agencies provide emergency, transitional and permanent housing that can accommodate about 450 people. The Gathering Inn, a nomadic community-based program that partners with local churches, provides shelter to 65 to 70 homeless individuals on a typical night.

“The county remains committed to continuing to partner with the community, as well as the cities, on efforts to reduce homelessness,” explained Assistant Director of Health and Human Services Graham Knaus. “That’s exactly why the county took the lead in funding a comprehensive six-month effort to identify gaps in housing and services and research-based recommendations for the county, cities, nonprofits, businesses, and others to participate in.  The absolute key to long-term improvement is for all players to actively participate and provide resources – it’s all of our responsibility.” 

The county and partner agencies have worked for many years to provide programs that house the homeless and offer support services they need to escape homelessness. These programs include transitional housing, rent subsidies, mental health treatment, and substance use disorder treatment.

Right Hand Auburn is proposing to operate the overnight shelter from approximately 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. If approved, the shelter would provide:

  • Two pre-prepared meals each day;
  • Separate sleeping, shower and restroom facilities for men and women; and  
  • Referrals for mental health, substance abuse, medical, legal, public assistance and job training services available through the county and other agencies.

If the board decides to grant the temporary conditional use permit and allows the proposed temporary shelter to proceed, board members will consider a series of conditions proposed by county staff for governing the shelter’s operations.

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