City opens its first ‘scattered-site’ shelters to help people experiencing homelessness

Nothing about these modest houses make them look different or stand out on their blocks. They are single-family homes, just like the ones surrounding them in this quiet South Sacramento neighborhood.

However, these two houses play an important role in the City of Sacramento’s efforts to help people experiencing homelessness.

The City last week opened its first “scattered-site” shelters. They house approximately five people each – not including site monitors. These shelters are low-barrier and come with access to services that help people stabilize their lives, including health and rehousing support.

New to the City, the scattered-site approach “is an effective model that has been used by the County of Sacramento for a few years,” said Emily Halcon, homeless services manager for the City. “It allows us to expand shelter capacity quickly in different areas throughout the city.  It’s much faster and less expensive than building a huge facility.”

The City’s scattered-site program is operated by Sacramento Self Help Housing, part of a two-year contract for 40 scattered-site shelter beds that was approved by the City Council in October and funded by Measure U dollars and support from Anthem Blue Cross and Dignity Health. The agreement looks to prioritize areas that do not have large, congregate shelters. The first two scattered-site shelters are in District 6.

“Scattered-site shelters enable us to help more people experiencing homelessness,” said Councilmember Eric Guerra, who represents District 6. “We must use every strategy available to us to address and solve this issue.”

SSHH leases vacant houses for the program. (No one is displaced so houses can be used as a shelter.) Usually, they look for houses with three to five bedrooms. Guest double up in the rooms. One room is for a “house monitor,” who is on-site 24 hours a day.

“The beauty of operating scattered-site shelters is that it is low impact on the community, and these shelters can be stood up or closed down really quickly as needed,” Halcon said.

The City of Sacramento has been working diligently to increase its shelter capacity and help more people experiencing homelessness. The City and County have approximately 1,420 shelter beds available this winter, an increase from last year. Most of these beds come with “wrap-around” services that help people find permanent solutions to their housing needs.

The City is working to open two new, large “navigation” shelters in spring 2020 – one in Meadowview and the other near the W/X freeway — in addition to the one currently operating at Capitol Park Hotel (in partnership with Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency). The City also last week declared a “shelter crisis,”which eases zoning and building requirements and allows for the quick construction of efficiency housing, including tiny homes and sleeping cabins.

Still, there is much more to do, Halcon said. “Homelessness is a critical issue, not only for Sacramento, but for all of California,” she said. “The City is committed to tackling this issue head-on and to making our communities stronger and safer for everyone.”

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