City Council Passes Winter Shelter Program, Discussed Sanctioned Camping for the Homeless Community

Image Courtesy of The Generator Judge

By Lauren Smith 

DAVIS — At Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting, the council approved the cold weather shelter program for the winter and discussed the possibility of establishing a sanctioned camping program to support the homeless community members in Davis.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and UC Davis instruction moving online, the number of apartment vacancies in the city has increased. In a partnership between the city, Communicare, Yolo Food Bank, DOVe and the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter (IRWS), those apartment vacancies will be used to house the homeless population in the winter.

City manager Kelly Stachowicz walked the City Council through details, stating that for a six month period, 25 two bedroom apartments would be leased to the homeless population. This program will house 40 people per night, and will provide services such as food and case management to those living there. Both the city and IRWS will help fund medical costs, leasing costs and case management.

Public commenter Tracy De Wit expressed that while everyone in the Davis community wants to help “those living on the streets,” a housing first approach is not going to solve the problem because it moves the problem “out of sight and behind closed doors.”  

De Wit further stated that “the idea of placing people with drug and alcohol addiction into apartments to keep them from contracting or spreading covid is a well-intentioned idea,” but it creates an “emotionally unstable environment for the residents who don’t have what it takes to deal with some of these extraordinary circumstances.”

De Wit concluded her comment stating, “I do not believe it is the residents’ responsibility to deal with some of these truly outrageous, scary and emotionally depleting circumstances.”

Mayor Gloria Partida directly responded to De Wit’s comment stating, “We have tried for a very very long time to require people to become clean and sober before we give them housing… Obviously this approach has not worked… People need a roof over their head before they address the issues that they are dealing with that put them in their homeless situation.”

Council member Dan Carson also addressed De Wit’s comment stating that drug and alcohol addiction are not the only reasons why people become homeless, “Some of these folks are just down on their luck for other reasons.”

“If we don’t do something like this, that is condemning some of these folks to death” Carson concluded.

All council members voted for this shelter program, and it was passed.

Stachowicz also asked the council for guidance on the logistics needed for establishing a sanctioned camping program. The four areas she was concerned about included the length of time the program would be running for, if vehicles would be allowed or not, the locations of the campsite (i.e. would they be spread out over Davis or would it be one larger areas) and the services provided at the campsite.

Council member Will Arnold generally approved of sanctioned campsites stating, “If there’s nowhere for folks to camp, then everywhere is a possible campsite.” 

He suggested that a dispersed location model would be best because it spreads the “burden” of the campsite across the community, claiming, “No matter where we put it, if it’s not in the absolute middle of nowhere… it’s going to have a big pushback to those folks living in that community.”

Former Mayor Brett Lee supported the idea of sanctioned campsites as well and seconded Arnold’s support for dispersed locations, stating, “People are going to camp, so let’s create a safe, secure and healthy environment for them to do so.” 

Lee also advocated for services to include toilets, food, laundry facilities and suggested a security system to make the campers feel safe and secure in their own living space. He further introduced placing behavioral restrictions on those who can live in these campsites, stating that a pilot program should be limited to those who “do not cause problems.”

Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs strongly advocated for a long term sanctioned camping program. He expressed discomfort with limiting this program to a nine month trial basis because “the reality is that it’s going to be a continued need.”

Frerichs felt that a focused location model would be better than a dispersed model because it would allow for all services offered to be concentrated in one area, making sure that adequate resources were always available instead of semi-acceptable resources available in multiple areas.

The vice mayor also recommended that there should be a set of rules and regulations surrounding garbage, cleanliness and sanitation in the campsite. 

Council member Dan Carson echoed Frerichs support of a single campsite stating that it is “hard to model having services in multiple locations at least at first.” He further suggested that, similar to the Interfaith rotating winter shelter, a doctor or nurse should stop by every few nights to do checkups on those who want one.

All council members felt that a sanctioned campsite should allow vehicles, however they recognized that the space availability for vehicles depends on the location of the campsite.

Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel addressed the types of housing available in the campsite, expressing concern that in the winter, when the weather is poor, using heaters in a tent is extremely dangerous. His solution was portable housing. However, he stated that he was not sure that the city could obtain the number of units needed to house those who need it.

Mayor Gloria Partida echoed and emphasized other council members’ thoughts that this program is vital to the Davis community and is important to get started as soon as possible stating, “If we want to get this going as soon as possible, we need to start off small.” 

Partida also agreed with Carson that “less is more” at this stage in the planning process, advocating for a one location sanctioned campsite that requires less resources and can provide better sanitation and staffing.

“I think it is important that we do start sending the message out that we are providing a space that is safe and that this is where we are expecting that people would go” Partida continued. “I do think that this will begin to filter out people who are really down on their luck [and are] really trying to find their way back. Hopefully the people who are not in that group will find that they’re being encountered more often so they will either participate in or decide to go elsewhere.”

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