Citrus Heights seeks to address area homelessness

Homelessness, Homeless, Citrus Heights

File photo, homeless individuals shown sleeping outside the former Linda’s Pizzeria on Greenback Lane, shortly after the business permanently closed. // CH Sentinel

Updated Feb. 8, 4:06 p.m.–
Seeking to address growing concerns about homelessness in Citrus Heights, city council members heard a pair of reports last week on recent outreach efforts to the area’s homeless population.

The reports were delivered during a Jan. 28 council meeting and focused on local efforts by the Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART), along with an update on efforts to connect the area’s homeless population with resources through a part-time “navigator.”

In a 20-minute report, HART Chairwoman Kathilynn Carpenter, who also serves as executive director of the Sunrise Marketplace business district, highlighted the local efforts of HART, as well as financial impacts of homelessness on local businesses, residents, and taxpayers.

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She referenced results of a recent “business walk,” conducted by the City and Chamber of Commerce, which found the majority of 77 businesses contacted had listed homelessness as “an issue.” Carpenter said problems have included loitering, public urination, shoplifting, camping, restrooms being used as showers, and customers being driven away.

She also highlighted “public-sector” costs of homelessness on law enforcement, court costs, hospitalization, and other public services. Although police believe there are just a little over 50 homeless persons in Citrus Heights, Lt. Jason Russo previously told city leaders that the police department receives “quite a few” calls for service related to homelessness, documenting a total of 1,585 calls during a six-month period in 2015.

Homeless Assistance Resource Team efforts

Carpenter said HART was formed towards the end of 2014, with a mission to “craft and implement long-term solutions to a long-term problem” of homelessness, through public-private partnerships. The group has since applied for nonprofit status and holds regular meetings at noon on the fourth Thursday of each month, at Holy Family Catholic Church.

According to Carpenter, HART is currently planning a “Stand Down” event for homeless veterans on March 30, which will offer haircuts, counseling, and a variety of services “for one day, in one place.” Additionally, she said HART supports a food bank and is working with the local farmers market to set up a table for collecting food donations.

Carpenter also said her group reached out to two other HART groups in the region that operate winter homeless shelter programs, arranging for Rancho Cordova’s HART to provide shelter for Citrus Heights homeless during most of the winter. She said various churches alternate in providing shelter with Rancho Cordova’s program and said the Citrus Heights HART has a goal to have a similar program in place by 2017.

As part of the shelter arrangement, she said Holy Family church offered to provide temporary overnight shelter for Rancho Cordova and Citrus Heights homeless from Jan. 17 to 24, with about 25 to 30 people participating. Ages ranged from seniors over 60-years-old, to a pregnant woman with a young child — with participants receiving dinner, toiletries, first aid kits, clothing, and connection with services.

“We’re developing a winter shelter subcommittee so that we can have more churches next year and have our own Citrus Heights winter sanctuary,” Carpenter told city council members. “We’ll be doing a lot of church outreach so we can make that happen.”

Although largely supportive of HART’s report, mention of a winter shelter in Citrus Heights did not sit well with at least one city councilman.

“I am not, and I’ll say it again, I am not in favor of building a shelter,” said Vice Mayor Jeff Slowey, believing that a shelter would only attract more homeless to the area. “If you build it, they will come, is my philosophy.”

Carpenter clarified to the council that her group is not proposing to build a permanent shelter, but rather a rotating, seasonal shelter, facilitated by churches or other volunteer groups.

She also shared her own “paradigm shift” about being a person who was “always calling police” on the homeless, to becoming a person who focused more on long-term solutions.

“I had to have the paradigm shift that that doesn’t work; it’s very temporary,” Carpenter told the council. She now believes connecting homeless individuals with available services and resources, in addition to enforcement of existing laws, is “the most cost-effective model” to addressing homelessness.

Obstacles faced

The Citrus Heights HART leader also said the “biggest obstacle” her group has faced is the lack of social services in communities outside Sacramento’s “urban core.” She said a “mind-numbing bureaucracy” has made it “nearly impossible” to efficiently connect homeless with services available in downtown Sacramento, especially with limited funding and time.

Other obstacles brought up during the meeting included the cost of rent, lack of a phone or transportation to get to a job or appointments, mental illness, and criminal history causing rental applications to be denied.

Carpenter also said the majority of homeless in Citrus Heights won’t ever leave the area “because they are connected to the city,” either by having a family member in the area or having grown up here.

She requested the city council’s help in advocating for “satellite services” in Citrus Heights and other communities like Fair Oaks and Orangevale, which she said are “all experiencing the same issues we are.”

Homeless navigator’s report

Following Carpenter’s report, council members heard a report from navigator Fatima Martinez, who works with HART to help connect homeless individuals with available resources — with an end goal of helping homeless access permanent housing.

The one-year navigator pilot program is funded by a $10,000 grant from the City, which pays for a navigator from Sacramento Self-Help Housing to be on the job six hours a week in Citrus Heights. The program has been in operation for about six months.

Martinez reported engaging 19 homeless individuals, five of whom declined an opportunity to participate in services like general assistance, bus passes, free government cell phones, motel vouchers and transportation.

Of the 14 homeless individuals who agreed to participate, Martinez said four were connected with Rancho Cordova’s winter sanctuary, two were permanently housed, and three were temporarily housed. She also said several received bus passes and hotel vouchers, and one received a free government cell phone.

Council members respond

Commenting on Martinez’s report, Vice Mayor Slowey called her work a “phenomenal success,” adding that he had initially been skeptical the $10,000 grant would create any results.

“Clearly we ought to get you more money some way, some how,” said Slowey, suggesting his fellow council members and city staff work “to find a way to make that $10,000 closer to 50.”

Several other council members also expressed support for the work of HART, along with a few questions about specific aspects of the navigator’s work. Mayor Jeannie Bruins also commented positively about a homeless assistance group called The Gathering Inn, based in Roseville, which operates a year-round shelter.

Looking ahead, the City’s Community and Economic Development Specialist Katherine Cooley, who works closely with HART, said the navigator pilot program plans to continue with current funding for the next six months. She said additional data would be collected and made available at the conclusion of the pilot program.

Note: this is the first article in a series on community issues. Follow future stories about homelessness and other local issues by signing up for The Sentinel’s free Weekend Edition.

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