City Council approves keeping overnight respite centers open year round

Signaling a major shift in how the City of Sacramento responds to inclement weather and homelessness, the City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to keep overnight respite centers open year round.

By adopting a resolution proposed by Mayor Darrell Steinberg, the City now will continuously operate drop-in respite centers regardless of outside temperatures. Some centers will remain open during daytime hours as well. In addition to providing people a safe place to rest, the centers will offer services to help people exit homelessness.

“This resolution is a statement of our larger intent,” Steinberg said Tuesday. “It’s never the wrong temperature to bring people indoors.”

Council members on Tuesday also voted to approve a budget of $3 million to spend on the effort through June 30. Council directed City staff to develop a plan for implementation, with Council members offering guidance on the potential siting of centers. Further funding for the centers would be addressed in the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, officials said.

During the discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Angelique Ashby proposed an amendment that at least one center would be designated specifically for women and children, which was accepted. Councilmember Jeff Harris identified the need for the centers to be more than nightly respite to ensure they are helping people to access services for substance abuse and mental health issues. Vice Mayor Jay Schenirer suggested City community centers serve as possible locations of operation.

Ashby also called upon the County of Sacramento to staff the respite centers with at least one social worker each, as the County is the area’s primary health and human resources agency.

The City is currently funding respite centers and safe parking nightly from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Library Galleria and City Hall parking garage downtown, along with the Capitol Seventh-Day Adventist Church in south Sacramento.

The City has been operating respite centers since January, when the Council voted to break with the regional “Severe Weather Guidance” plan developed with Sacramento County that requires the opening of warming centers only when the temperature is 32 degrees or colder.

The Council declared an extreme weather emergency and opened overnight shelters that have operated every day since, except for a 10-day break when several people at the Library Galleria shelter downtown tested positive for COVID-19.

The existing warming centers are run by First Step Communities through a contract with the city. Council members agreed that the additional shelters should also be run by outside entities that have more expertise in managing such short-term respite shelter.

Steinberg recently argued in an op-ed published in The Sacramento Bee that drop-in shelters are an important short-term step to get people experiencing homelessness indoors and connected to services while the City works on longer-term solutions like a master siting plan on homeless housing solutions that is expected to come back to the City Council for approval in June.

The master plan will designate places around the city for longer-term shelter, tiny homes, permanent housing and safe camping and parking.

“We need more beds; we need more roofs; we need more safe spaces,” Steinberg said Tuesday.

Shelter beds county-wide number about 1,200. The estimated number of people living unsheltered in Sacramento County is at least five times that number, according to the most recent Point in Time Count.

The year-round respite centers are “a piece in a larger puzzle,” said Councilmember Mai Vang, voicing her support for the resolution.

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