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Citrus Heights Councilman Bret Daniels on Thursday called on his fellow council members to join him in pursuing his proposal to put “FEMA-type” trailers for homeless families on several vacant lots on Sayonara Drive.
Daniels brought the idea up during the past two City Council meetings, but has so far failed to get the item placed on a future agenda. Under council rules, an item can only be put on the agenda if it receives the support of at least two council members. Daniels was unsuccessful in getting a “second” motion from any of his four colleagues on the council on Thursday night after presenting his proposal during a portion of the meeting set aside for bringing up future agenda items.
The councilman isn’t dropping his idea though, and is hopeful the council will discuss the matter more during an upcoming strategic planning retreat in October.
In an interview with The Sentinel on Friday, Daniels said Sayonara Drive is an ideal location for setting up 25-30 FEMA trailers, which are typically used to house people temporarily after a disaster.
“It’s a unique opportunity there, and a unique opportunity that the city owns the lots,” said Daniels. “There’s infrastructure there, and it would take very little work to get them up and running.”
The area on Sayonara Drive was once home to numerous apartments that the city purchased and demolished a decade ago in the hopes of cleaning up a street known for crime.
Daniels said the trailers would be restricted to only house homeless families, not individuals. It would also be transitional housing and would be limited to a specific time-frame, like six months.
“There are families, I believe, out there that are good people and they’re trying to be able to get a first month’s rent, last month’s rent, deposit together,” said Daniels. “They may be working, but they can’t put that much together, and so having an option of some sort of temporary housing… is a way for us to have a positive impact on things.”
The councilman said he’s reached out to Assemblyman Ken Cooley’s office to look into whether state funding could be secured, but said additional research on funding would be the responsibility of city staff.
“I don’t know what it would cost, because that would be what would need to be done for a second council member to have staff start working on those kinds of things, and that’s what they’ve refused to do,” said Daniels.
Although council members did not comment on Daniels’ proposal on Thursday night, Councilman Steve Miller said in an email statement to The Sentinel on Saturday that cost was his primary concern.
“My primary concern about placing ‘free’ FEMA trailers would be the cost for delivery, site preparation, anchoring, electricity, sewer, water, accessible ramps, furnishings and appliances,” wrote Miller. “Then there is the additional monthly costs for supportive services, repairs, maintenance and utilities.”
He also expressed concern with what he called the “unintended consequences of homeless families coming to Citrus Heights from surrounding areas in the hope of qualifying for free housing.”
Councilwoman Porsche Middleton also criticized Daniels’ proposal in an email response to The Sentinel, calling the proposal a “band aid approach to a multi-layered issue.”
“Placing temporary trailers in the middle of a residential neighborhood will not have the desired positive impact of helping these individuals or improving our community,” she wrote. “[T]hese individuals need access to appropriate services and stable permanent housing to ensure that they do not fall back into homelessness.”
Both Middleton and Miller also spoke positively of the work Citrus Heights is currently doing to help the homeless, crediting the Homeless Navigator program with helping place over 100 individuals in transitional housing so far this year.
Daniels acknowledged that Citrus Heights on its own wouldn’t have the money needed to implement his trailer proposal, but said through partnerships with state funding and private organizations he believes it would be a cost-effective way to house families currently living out of cars or couch-surfing.
According to a KPRC-Houston story in February, hundreds of new or barely used trailers were being auctioned off, with some going for around $20,000. The news station reported the average trailer cost FEMA around $64,000 to purchase new.
Councilman Daniels said he was not aware of the trailers being used to house homeless elsewhere, aside from disaster areas where the trailers are regularly deployed to temporarily house those who have lost their homes. However, he said trailer use for disaster relief should work the same way to help homeless families.
In a similar effort, a local nonprofit called Everyone Matters Ministries has been helping homeless find housing through renting out RV’s and travel trailers for the past several years. The group initially began using mobile homes, but found RV’s and trailers to be more cost-effective.
In addition to his trailer proposal, Daniels also proposed a restriction on camping within 100 feet of a waterway or a commercial or residential structure, as well proposing the city authorize camps to be removed immediately if needed to “protect health and public safety.” Neither proposal received the necessary support from a second council member in order to be put on a future agenda.
Daniels said he brought forward the proposals because the city hasn’t done enough to address homelessness.
“We’re not L.A., we’re not San Francisco, we’re not Sacramento, and we don’t want to turn into these places, and everything’s getting closer and closer and worse and worse,” said Daniels. “We are totally failing the citizens of Citrus Heights.”
Asked whether he felt such policies would be allowed under the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found most anti-camping ordinances unconstitutional unless adequate shelter beds are available, Daniels said he thinks such restrictions would be a “carve-out” the court would accept.
“It still allows plenty of opportunity to camp on public property and not be within those restrictions,” he said. “All it does is move [homeless people] away from people’s homes. It still leaves opportunities for people to find places to camp.”
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