Last week’s discussion on homelessness witnessed the council, in the face of outcry from the Mace Ranch neighborhood, shift gears on the homeless respite center proposal and shift the site from the 3559 Second Street location to the corporation yard at 1717 Fifth Street.
Naturally, the council is now receiving complaints from the Davis Manor Neighborhood.
Staff noted, in advance of last week’s meeting, that before they undertook formal outreach to residential neighborhoods, they started receiving feedback (all of negative, it seems, from residents) regarding concerns about “the safety of schoolchildren who regularly traverse the Dave Pelz overcrossing.”
Others opposed a homeless center anywhere within city limits – although from what we saw, that seemed to be a minority view.
I went into the process believing that we need both a day location for homeless people to do basic things like wash clothes and get out of the weather, and I also believe we need permanent nighttime shelter – right now non-profits and religious organizations are providing temporary cold-weather shelter in town.
The Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter stops operating by mid-March. That means we effectively have no shelter for seven or eight months out of the year.
Where this should take place, I was largely agnostic. However, I do agree with council that the 1717 5 Fifth Street location is far better for a number of reasons – closer to downtown and closer to services being the primary reason.
The staff apparently conducted their outreach to the business community first – businesses in close proximity to the 3559 Second Street location. Looking at the timeline of events, it becomes
pretty clear that the council and staff brought this item back because of public outcry – primarily from Mace Ranch residents.
The Change.org petition and numerous heated posts on NextDoor seemed to necessitate the issue coming back to council sooner than anticipated.
What was a bit unsettling is that we saw Mayor Brett Lee pushing for city staff to move quicker and make sure we have the day center in place before winter sets in – even though it seemed like there was no rush to do this before public outcry started on the respite center location a few weeks ago.
“I would like to see something happen prior to the rainy season,” the mayor said. “I am looking at weeks not months.” He pushed back hard on staff. But again I wonder, where was the urgency before this matter was placed back on calendar?
The public seemed fairly evenly split. About half of the 43 public commenters expressed concerns about the Second Street location. Most of the supportive comments were less site specific – focusing on the need for a respite center, with some student activists expressing concern about Davis shaming homeless people and the stigma that homelessness is equate to dangerousness.
The overwhelming sentiment of those opposed to Second Street was, “It’s just not safe for our kids.”
On the other hand a UC Davis student responded, “I think most people are in favor of putting in a homeless shelter but when it comes to putting it somewhere in the city, it is always, somewhere else. Somewhere else that is not near me.”
As Dave Griffin pointed out: “Every time this issue arises, it’s always no.”
That is my feeling as well. While some people were flat out against a respite center, most took this position: “I’m not in favor of the Second Street site, but we have to put it someplace else. It’s just not safe for our kids.”
Or this one: “We do care about the problem, the homeless. It is a big problem here in Davis. But we need to come up with a solution that works for everybody. The Second Street one just doesn’t work for everybody.”
A lot of people argued that they were not against the homeless, that this is not NIMBYism – but are they correct? The implicit assumption behind the argument that it is not safe to have homeless near the overpass is because they inherently present a danger to children.
But do they? Few people cited anything other than fear and conjecture in support of their arguments. No one delved into statistics or even studies that demonstrate this as a fact.
As Gloria Partida put it in her column: “Children are already riding past homeless residents on their way to and from school, we are already dealing with the effects of people living on our streets, off of our community gardens, outside of our businesses and setting up camps in our open spaces.”
And then she makes what to me is the critical point: “The difference is that they are not supervised or having intervention delivered to them in these spaces.”
This is the part that I don’t understand either, in the opposition of the near-neighbors or people opposing the housing-first model – we already have people living on the streets and present in our community. Is it better for them to be unhoused and unsupervised? Or it is better for them to have a place to go, a meal, a bed to sleep in and then hopefully we can cobble the money together for other services?
I think staff got it inevitably correct: no matter where the respite center is put, near-neighbors and others are going to complain.
It is unfortunate that the council responded to all of this negative feedback by moving the location. However, at the end of the day they did the right thing by putting it in the best available location, from what I can tell. They did the right thing.
They will undoubtedly get pushback now from the Davis Manor community. But in the end, they will see how this works. It’s only a brief pilot and if the program makes things worse, they’ll undoubtedly have to shift it again.
—David M. Greenwald reporting