Tensions were high Tuesday night at the Davis City Council meeting when many opposed to the council’s follow-up on cold weather shelters arrived.
Currently, a Memorandum of Understanding limits the maximum number of individuals a shelter can hold to 25. The city, church and neighbors believed the policy was reasonable, but attendees at Tuesday’s meeting expressed their dismay for the limitations and ultimately persuaded the council to waive the limits.
Councilmember Steve Souza said the facilities should focus on health and safety purposes, instead of limitations that cut off the number of people in each facility at 25.
Since the unusually cold weather days in December last year did not constitute a declared emergency, the council unanimously approved a budget adjustment of $861.49 to cover costs incurred due to opening a daytime warming shelter, assisting the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter with capacity increases and disbursing bus vouchers, food supplies and staffing to local shelters.
Mary Anne Kirsch, a board member of the local Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter, said the city was harassing the group.
“They should be thanking us for what we’re doing,” Kirsch said. “The city is putting more of a burden on the volunteers. As Don Saylor said before, we should be giving a bowl of soup instead of making us report to the city.”
The IRWS and Davis Community Meals experienced high occupancy during the cold winter months. On Dec. 7, 2009, the IRWS reached its capacity and turned individuals away. IRWS staff did not have clear direction on steps to take when their shelter filled. In response to this problem, city staff outlined and provided a procedure to follow if their shelter space fills.
There are three shelters in Davis, including the Davis Community Meals Shelter and Resource Center, the Davis Community Meals Cold Weather Shelter and the IRWS.
Rather than change the MOU, staff originally recommended the council direct staff to continue monitoring the MOU and provide an update at the end of the first year, when the agreed limit on program changes ends.
Kristin Stoneking, former member of the city’s Steering Committee, said the people against the MOU who attended the meeting made it clear that the issue needed to be reconsidered.
Theatrics were even used during the meeting. Alex Wright, a pastor at University Covenant Church stripped off a hoodie and hat to reveal a business suit underneath, in an effort to demonstrate the judgment toward the homeless in Davis and how he would be taken more seriously in professional clothing.
Richard Livingston of the Davis American Civil Liberties Union also said the homeless in Davis were being discriminated against.
“Discriminating against a certain group of people is a naughty thing to do,” Livingston said. “I hope [the council] can see that.”
Councilmember Sue Greenwald, who supported the MOU, said the nation needs to solve the homeless problem, not Davis alone.
After much opposition some members of the council began to side with those from the community and residents of the neighborhood. Councilmember Lamar Heystak said the resolution would cause more pain than feeding and sheltering those in the neighborhood, and it needed to be re-evaluated.
“I don’t want to leave the council with regrets,” Heystak said. “I feel really bad about what has happened. I want to assure everyone in the room that each member of the council cares about what’s best for the community.”
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.