City explores possibility of piloting homeless respite center

City explores possibility of piloting homeless respite center

Photo Credits: ALLYSON KO / AGGIE

Mayor’s staff developing proposal, options to provide basic amenities for Davis homeless

When overnight shelters like Fourth and Hope in Woodland and Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter (IRWS) close their doors each morning, and when IRWS ends its operational season in March, where can individuals experiencing homelessness go? Mayor Brett Lee hopes to open a City of Davis respite center to better serve Davis’ homeless population.

The respite center, which Lee hopes will open June 1 if approved by City Council, is a potential one-year demonstration project that would serve homeless individuals through two main components: a temperature-controlled day center and a small number of tent cabins or similar structures for safe and orderly camping.

On Feb. 19, City Council approved exploration of Lee’s general idea with a budget that had an upper limit of $80,000, and it commissioned staff “to return with analysis of a potential respite center pilot project, to include locations and resource needs (funding, staffing, etc.),” according to the council meeting minutes.

Lee’s idea for the pilot’s daytime component is for the city to offer a space that is air-conditioned during the summer and heated during the winter. He said a place like the respite center is needed, as traditional shelters that close early in the morning leave individuals with 12 to 14 hours of limited places to go.

“Most of the time, [people are] just out in the cold,” Lee said, in explaining that “the idea is to create a place where people can go to watch TV or read a book or just sort of sit and not have to be worried that they’re blocking a business or someone’s private property.”

The day center would also offer basic amenities, such as laundry facilities, showers, restrooms and television, and would also allow pets. To keep costs down, Lee’s plans for the respite center pilot have focused on trailer-based solutions like shower and laundry trailers. Lee also hopes that the center would help connect eligible people with social services.

The second component, Lee said, speaks to the fact that individuals living homeless often camp in various places such as adjacent to campus and at the edge of Davis.

“It’s supposed to rain in a couple days, and a few weeks ago, there were crazy cold, rainy storms, and people are literally living in crummy tents under the trees in ditches here in Davis,” Lee said. “These folks need something now.”

According to Lee, the respite center could help shelter people in five to 15 tent cabins, even as other groups work on more long-term solutions, such as Paul’s Place. Lee noted the achievability of short-term, immediate solutions; he cited the speed at which emergency structures and amenities were put into place in response to recent California fires.

“It would be nice to offer [those camping] a more safe and secure area,” Lee said.

Lee noted that finding the land for the tent cabins may pose a challenge.

“Most of the city land is already being used for something, so we’ll probably have to relocate, at least on a temporary basis some of some city activity,” Lee said.

Lee also acknowledged potential neighborhood concerns.

“It’s reasonable for people to be concerned, but I think we can allay those concerns by showing it will be well run and done in an orderly fashion,” Lee said. “But that is one of the challenges — trying to make sure that the neighbors understand what it is versus letting their fears or imagination get the better of them.”

Before piloting either the day center or the tent cabins, the proposal still must be developed, presented and approved by the council.

Joan Planell, a social services consultant for the City of Davis, has been leading the staff team responsible for policy recommendations for the center since the Feb. 19 meeting. This staff team includes, among others, Officer Ryan Collins, the homeless outreach services coordinator, Ginger Hashimoto, an analyst with the city manager’s office and Madeline Handy, a second-year microbiology major at UC Davis and intern for Lee.

Handy has been working on researching options for the center since she was hired in late September of 2018.

“When I started toward the end of September, I was just doing research and talking to members of the community about the potential of having the project,” Handy said, adding that she’s spoken to groups like Davis Community Church and IRWS to learn about the homelessness efforts already happening in Davis and receive feedback. “Everybody has been relatively supportive. There have been some concerns about the program, but we’re still working through details.”

Handy continued by explaining her work with the team.

“Since that [Feb. 19] meeting, I’ve been meeting with members of the staff to put together a proposal that will actually go to the city council,” Handy said. “We’ve just been gathering research and looking into the best practices, and hopefully when the proposal is finished, it will get approved, but it still is in the works.”

Planell emphasized that at the moment, her team is exploring the respite center as a possibility, rather than a certainty.

“There has to be a vote of at least three [council members] are in favor of doing this before it becomes a reality, so we’re just exploring it at this point,” Planell said. “It has not been agreed that the city council is going to do this. The mayor had an idea, and the staff are researching the feasibility of it.”

Planell said that the team will present its findings in a written report for Mike Webb, the Davis city manager, by the end of April.

“I’ve been working with [Lee] as far as what’s his vision, making sure that our research is in line with his vision,” Planell said.

Handy showed support for the project while highlighting the fact that the project is still in its beginning stages.

“I think that the respite center will have a really big impact on the community and it’ll be really helpful,” Handy said. “We’re just sort of working through some details and preparing options that the city council will look at, so there’s still a lot of room for improvement and figuring out what will be best for Davis.”

Written by: Anne Fey — city@theaggie.org