Here we go again I thought as I saw a packed room on Tuesday. It had been a little over a month since Mace Ranch showed up in opposition to respite center on Second Street. And while the council defended themselves on Tuesday, arguing that they had made changes to the location based on logistical factors rather than safety concerns, the optics of a month ago were not great.
Staff’s prediction that any location would likely generate considerable opposition from near-neighbors has proven accurate.
But on Tuesday a strange thing happened – the forces of reaction and opposition were quite simply overwhelmed. By our count – 54 people spoke on Tuesday night, only 13 emerged in “clear” opposition – by that I mean they said they were opposed to the respite center in the corporation yards as opposed to expressing safety concerns and asking for modifications.
Someone suggested this might be a matter of political correctness or the supporters simply out-organized the opposition. However, while the Vanguard has not had a chance to go through all of the city’s emails that we requested this week – once again the overwhelming sentiment expressed in those communications was support.
The fact that only a baker’s dozen showed up in opposition suggests that the opposition while vocal, did not run that deeply into the community. Moreover, even among the Davis Manor residents, who represented the bulk of the opposition, there were a surprisingly high number that were supportive of the respite center in their neighborhood.
The overwhelming opposition was in the form of fear of safety concerns and concerns about visual blight and nuisances. To that point there has been research presented that studies have found that locations with homeless shelters do not have higher generated crime rates.
Pastor John Castlefranco explained that his congregation has been part of the rotating winter shelter program since its inception in 2005, and n their time of doing this, “we’ve never had any problems.”
Police Chief Darren Pytel added that the shelters have generated very few calls for service, stating, “we’ve had a lot of users of the program and we’ve had very few law enforcement problems with the shelters.”
That is likely because the individuals who are most likely to cause problems are not going to voluntarily come to a shelter or a day center – which probably means that some of the problems in the broader community will not be resolved through this but at the same time, it should allay the fears of Davis Manor that problems will concentrate in this location.
To those who argue that this is not attacking the biggest problem or biggest need – I both agree and disagree.
On the one hand, there is a need to get people out of the heat during the summer and out of the rain and cold during the winter. This can provide a place to hang out during the day that is not sitting on a sidewalk, it provides a place to shower and use the facilities.
On the other hand, as Darren Pytel put it, this proposal still lacks the nighttime element that they need to house the homeless. “At some point we’re doing to have to get to the nighttime element,” he said.
That’s a problem – in fact, it is a rather shocking problem. Other than the rotating winter shelter, the city is surprisingly bereft of permanent nighttime shelter. That would appear to be the biggest area of emergency need.
Longer term it was interesting to have the city’s respite center discussion fall the day after Rohit Naimpally presented data on his studies.
The existing data suggest that a housing first approach is probably the most cost effective intervention.
Mr. Naimpally noted that housing first was “paradigm shift” that understood:
“Rather than require people to get clean or get sober before being provided direct housing, getting people into housing is the first step. No conditions applied.”
On the other hand, “Transitional housing typically requires people to meet some criteria in order to come in.” It is also time-limited, typically not for more than six months.
He cited a study where they compared people who received transitional housing versus permanent supportive housing and other forms of housing.
“They found that transitional housing was no better than the status quo,” he stated. “It was rather expensive and the preconditions didn’t actually do anything.”
On the other hand, permanent supportive housing has been evaluated multiple times in a rigorous way. He argued that the key thing about permanent supportive housing is that there are no preconditions for entry, long-term assistance, and support services for those that need them.
“All of these cases found that it dramatically improves housing stability,” he said for those who received permanent supportive housing. They found that in two years time, they were less than half as likely to be entering shelters or experiencing housing instability.
There is also an abiding fear that by providing homeless services, a community will draw homeless people into the area.
There are several problems with that. One is that Davis is hardly leading the way on homeless services at this point and in fact seems to be lagging the resources that Sacramento has put into it.
Rohit Naimpally said there wasn’t much evidence to support the idea that people move to a location due to the services.
“Most people in a given place experiencing homelessness are from there,” he said. These aren’t people who moved because of weather or services. “These are typically people who at some point had stable housing and no longer have stable housing.”
Bottom line is that the city took a good first step, but this is really the tip of the iceberg in terms of what they need to do. What was refreshing from my perspective was that the community that came out on Tuesday – in rather large numbers – did not reflect the reactionary opposition that we have seen so prominently featured on social media.
In short, it was a good day for the Davis community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting