Guest Commentary: Davis Needs a Permanent, Year-Round Shelter

Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash

And the work to make that happen needs to begin immediately, rather than waiting until a “homeless study” can be completed in 3-9 months.

by Shoshana Zatz

“I don’t want to be having this exact same conversation next winter. I want to have a place, in town, that’s identified…that is permanently in our stock, year-round, that we have available to folks…I want to be having the conversation next October about how do we expand on this capacity that’s our baseline, that we already have.”  Mayor (then Vice-Mayor) Will Arnold at the October 18, 2022, City Council meeting)

Many lessons, resolutions and plans will likely come out the tragic events that occurred at the beginning of May. One thing that became clearer is the need for a year-round permanent emergency shelter. HEART of Davis, along with other Davis community organizations concerned about our unsheltered neighbors, has been advocating for some time that shelter is needed beyond the winter months. We all know that summers here can be brutal with extreme heat and often unhealthy levels of smoke from nearby and distant wildfires. And safety is always a concern for those who are sheltering outside, as we learned only too well last month.

On June 6, the City Council will receive a “Winter Shelter Debrief” report from the Director of Social Services and Housing. The program consisted of a non-congregate site (rooms at Motel 6) that provided shelter to an unduplicated count of 33, and a congregate site (a City-owned house at 512 Fifth Street) that sheltered an unduplicated count of 35 (it’s not clear how many of those individuals fell into both categories). With invaluable assistance from Davis Community Meals and Housing, CommuniCare’s Mobile Medicine Team, St. Vincent de Paul, HEART of Davis and many community volunteers, all of those individuals had a warm, safe place to be during the winter months, which, as we all know, are becoming colder and wetter as a result of climate change. The City has every right to be pleased with this result.

Except that the most recent Point in Time count (a day in January when all of the homeless individuals are counted in each of the country’s regions) found 181 homeless people in Davis. Measured against that number, our shelter program only reached between 20 and 38% of our homeless neighbors.  Even though we have heard that no one was turned away from either the congregate or non-congregate shelter last winter, obviously we are not reaching most of them. We know that there are some people who choose to stay outdoors, but it’s very likely that there were obstacles or barriers that discouraged those who might otherwise have wanted to be indoors. Perhaps they had pets that weren’t allowed in either of the shelters; maybe they didn’t have transportation to get them where they needed to be to sign up for that day’s shelter or to actually make it to the shelter in the evening. There might have been policies, procedures and restrictions that caused folks to decide that they would rather sleep outdoors in the rain and cold than put their trust in a program that didn’t meet their needs or make them feel safe. Many other features of our shelter program might have discouraged a large percentage of individuals from taking advantage of the resources offered to them. We need to figure out why.

As a next step, city staff have plans to conduct an in-depth “study” of homelessness in Davis that will result in a strategy for addressing the City’s homeless population. Frustratingly, this study will take 3-9 months, according to the City’s Director of Social Services and Housing. In the meantime, all of the issues mentioned above, and more, will continue to remain problematic for our homeless neighbors through yet another hot summer and cold winter until the “study” can be completed.

HEART and others believe that a permanent, year-round shelter cannot wait that long. Last October, when the Council discussed the plans for Winter Shelter, we heard from several of them (see quote, above) that they wished to see a permanent shelter in place by the time the next Winter season was upon us. Waiting for the study to be completed delays this effort significantly, and we do not see why the two planning processes can’t be accomplished simultaneously. We don’t need a high-paid consultant to tell us that we need a permanent, year-round shelter. 

We do this work to honor David Breaux’s legacy of compassion and to garner support while concern is strongest. Please come to the June 6 City Council and make your voice heard about the immediate need to begin planning for a permanent, year-round shelter. The item is scheduled to be discussed at 8:30 pm. And if you can’t come to the Council meeting, you can send a written comment or record a voicemail comment following the instructions below:


  1. Submit written public comments to Emails are distributed to City Council and staff. To ensure the City Council has the opportunity to review information prior to the meeting, send emails by 3:00 p.m. on the meeting date.
  2. Submit comments by voicemail prior to the meeting: Call the city’s dedicated phone line (530) 757-5693 to leave a voicemail message for public comment. Staff will play comments during the appropriate agenda item. Comments will be accepted from 12:00 noon until 4:00 p.m. on the day of the meeting. Voicemail public comments will not be accepted after 4:00 p.m. Speakers will be limited to no more than two minutes.Note: You must leave a separate voicemail for each item you wish to comment on. Please indicate your name and which item you are speaking about.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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1 Comment

  1. Sharla Cheney

    We can’t account for the decisions that people make. The woman who was stabbed recently had 4 grown daughters living in the Sacramento area but refused offers to live with one of them. Instead she traveled to Davis to camp along 2nd Street. I wonder how many others have chosen to reject offers of shelter or are mentally incapable of meeting the demands of living with others. I believe that offering one solution for all will not work. A year round shelter will be OK for some, but will be rejected by others and we will have the same recurring problems.  Solutions need to be found on a case by case basis.  Some will need more supportive housing, some will need housing  that affords privacy, some will need housing that allows pets, etc.  Some will want to continue camping, but maybe could be offered access to facilities- toilets, showers, laundry, security.  Just look outside the respite center on L street. Some just want a place to gather with friends – to drink, use drugs and talk.  Create a temporary housing solution that allows this and we’ll see fewer street camping.

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