By David M. Greenwald
With homelessness soaring in Davis and more people living on the streets in unsheltered situations as of early 2019, the Davis City Council looked to create temporary shelter for daytime uses to provide basic services and enable those who wanted not to have to hang out on the streets all day.
The Respite Center, approved in late 2019 as a pilot project, “aims to improve the quality of life for individuals experiencing homelessness in Davis, through provision of services to meet basic needs and connection to services to assist with housing, counseling, medical care and other needs.”
With the evaluation period ending, the council is reviewing the experience so far and being asked to extend the program for another 12 months.
This represents a relatively cheap program. To date, the staff report cites a $382,500 cost, which includes a $60,000 one-time amount for site improvements. Costs vary, but the average cost is about $33,900 per month.
Council began acting in early 2019 after Yolo County completed its biennial point-in-time count, which found that there were 190 persons experiencing homelessness in Davis on any given night. One hundred fourteen of those people experienced unsheltered homelessness, reflecting a 30 percent increase in overall homelessness and a larger increase in the unsheltered population—which nearly doubled from about 58 unsheltered in 2017 to the 114 in 2019.
In February 2019, the council asked staff to research options for establishing a pilot daytime and nighttime respite center to serve persons experiencing homelessness in Davis. After an early recommendation of a location on Second Street drew community and neighborhood pushback, council shifted to the Public Works Corp Yard on Fifth Street.
Council cited among other things its more central location, relatively near other services located near City Hall, with a large enough footprint to accommodate the proposed amenities and the infrastructure that did not exist on other city-owned parcels.
In late December 2019, the council approved the one-year pilot that included things like food, laundry facilities, resting areas, showers and storage.
The Respite Center finally opened on February 24—just three weeks before a state of emergency was declared due to COVID.
Staff notes, “This emergency, which remains in place today, has significantly influenced the operations of the Center. It quickly became and continues to serve as a vital piece of the complex public health puzzle, with a goal to limit the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless population and the broader community.”
According to the staff report, the city contracts with CommuniCare to operate the center and provide medical services to guests. Right now the center is open six days a week and averages 111 guests per week, with six or seven new intakes.
Among the services are the Hub which “includes restrooms; the administrative office; a computer hub where guests can access email, complete applications, or be online; a clothes closet with donations from the community; simple food and drinks from the Yolo Food Bank; and an area to sit and relax.”
There are bathrooms and showers, laundry facilities, storage, outdoor seating, covered resting spaces, service connections, and mail.
COVID, staff says, has “posed challenges.”
It has also “provided opportunities” and “caused the Center to pivot to a COVID-focused operation within weeks of opening. It quickly became a critical part of the City’s COVID-response infrastructure, with a goal of preventing the spread of the disease among the city unsheltered individuals.”
Immediately, the Center implemented procedures “to limit occupancy so that social distancing could be enforced, implemented new sanitization procedures, increased visitations by CommuniCare medical staff to meet with guests, and coordinated with Yolo County to identify the most vulnerable individuals to participate in Project RoomKey.”
Project RoomKey has become a critical program for the homeless community, enabling the county to house unsheltered individuals in hotel rooms throughout the County.
Davis has had 39 hotel rooms as part of the program for people who are medically vulnerable to COVID-19 and 12 rooms for people who need to isolate or quarantine due to positive COVID-19 test results—many of the participants were identified through the Respite Center.
Staff notes that people accepted into the Project RoomKey program “are not permitted to access the services at the Center while they are housed in a hotel room, as they have access to the same services via Project RoomKey.”
Staff notes that while the center has referred roughly 100 of the more vulnerable people to Project RoomKey, “the intake numbers and the participation at the Center have not declined.”
The staff report notes that initially there was a lot of pushback from the community on the Respite Center: “Many near neighbors were concerned about the potential effects of the Center on their neighborhood. Concerns included whether there would be an increase in homeless individuals in the neighborhood, particularly when the Center was closed; increased levels of crime once the Center was operational; and decreased safety in the area.”
There was a follow up meeting held virtually on December 2, 2020, where a survey received 130 responses out of 1100 postcards mailed to the Davis Manor and Old East Davis Neighborhoods. Around 40 people participated at the meeting.
Survey responses show people evenly split, with 51 percent saying the Center “has negatively impacted their neighborhood” but 49 percent said it has not impacted their neighborhood negatively.
Staff writes, “The biggest impacts noted in the survey included an increase in general safety concerns, trash/littering, and an increase of unhoused individuals in the area. Most survey participants stated there were minimal impacts to crime, traffic, noise, and property values.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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