City Council approves operating full-time ‘Outreach and Engagement Center’ serving unsheltered residents

The Sacramento City Council this week voted unanimously to operate the former Powerhouse Science Center and Museum on Auburn Boulevard as a full-time “Outreach and Engagement Center” for people experiencing homelessness.

The center already is staffed under a $3.3-million contract with Hope Cooperative approved by the Council in January, but its operation has been subject to certain weather thresholds, including days when the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg this week asked the Council to consider expanding the use of this facility.

“We have a city-owned piece of property and a building that is being underused at the same time that we have more than 9,000 people living unsheltered in Sacramento,” Steinberg said. “I cannot just let this resource lay fallow when so many people need help.”

With the approval, the Outreach and Engagement Center soon will be open daily as a place where up to 50 people can come inside regardless of the weather and receive help from social workers, clinicians and housing coordinators.

It will take a few weeks before the center is fully staffed, officials said. Guests will be admitted by referral only. There will not be walk-up admissions except during extreme weather events.

“The guests will all be referred in by the Department of Community Response,” said Bridgette Dean, the department’s director. “They will be pre-screened and obviously, they will have to agree to abide by the rules. We see this as an opportunity to bring people in off the street while we determine what their needs are and how we can meet those needs. This center offers hope for those experiencing homelessness, and for the community.”

First priority will go to people experiencing homelessness in the immediate vicinity of the center. Department of Community Response staff said they expect City Council District 2 and the nearby unincorporated area around the center to get substantial relief as more people are brought indoors and connected with services such as housing assistance and help to obtain health care through Cal-AIM.

The decision to expand the use of the Auburn Boulevard Outreach and Engagement Center was not without concerns from the community. A group of nearby residents led a protest claiming that the facility would endanger residents of the Children’s Receiving Home nearby.

Steinberg and staff members from DCR have worked extensively over the past month with representatives of the receiving home. Included in this week’s Council action was a good neighbor policy that includes such items as round-the-clock security, monitoring of crime data, a no-camping zone around the center and the exclusion of registered sex offenders.

In a statement, the Children’s Receiving Home said it is “neutral” on the expanded operation of the center.

“We’re going to be good neighbors,” Dean said, “to the Children’s Receiving Home and to the rest of the community.”

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