Leaders talk big-picture of homelessness in South Placer

By: Mackenzie Myers, Reporter
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Between a reduction in homeless veterans and families, a $1-million housing grant from Sutter Health and several affordable housing projects underway, certain aspects of South Placer’s homeless situation are looking positive.

But during a quarterly homeless-services meeting Friday at the Roseville Civic Center, city and county officials from throughout the region, including Lincoln, addressed remaining obstacles: rising rents, the rainy winter and potential threats to public assistance programs that might surface as the state approves its budget.

Jeffrey Brown, director of Placer County’s Health and Human Services department, said that, as a preliminary number, Placer County’s point-in-time homeless count landed in the low 500s this year. Brown said the 2017 count mirrors the previous one taken in 2015 but factors such as weather and community events can cause the number to fluctuate.

“Almost everyone feels homelessness is increasing rather than decreasing. I’m not sure that’s true,” Brown said.

Regarding countywide updates of homeless services, the county plans to initialize a homeless management information system by January, which will help track homeless individuals. It will note services each individual receives, increasing efficiency across providers.

Placer County is also in the process of purchasing an 18-unit building next to The Gathering Inn to house mentally-ill residents. Discussions are underway for a permanent shelter location in Auburn to anchor the county’s shelter within the DeWitt Center. A proposed shelter off Cincinnati Avenue in unincorporated Rocklin is undergoing environmental review.

Individual cities also had action to report on Friday. Regarding housing vouchers, which pay for most of a resident’s rent if he or she fits certain criteria, Roseville’s housing manager Danielle Foster said that city coordinators have given those benefits to those in need. The city of Roseville’s program is separate from, but similar to the county’s voucher program. Both are closed to new applicants, with the exception of vouchers specifically for veterans. But beyond putting rent assistance in the hands of those who need it, the housing process becomes difficult. While helpful, vouchers don’t erase past evictions or shorten the waiting list to get into a rental, obstacles many homeless individuals encounter in their search for housing.

However, Foster said an affordable housing project is under construction on Vernon Street in Roseville. The complex will have roughly 56 units for extremely low-, very low- and low-income families, spanning one to three bedrooms. She estimated completion is “less than a year out.” 

Rocklin is working on providing residences as well, pursuing a project that will add roughly 40 affordable units in a larger complex along Pacific Street and Midas Avenue. Another project, St. Anton, is slated to replace a Kmart on Pacific Street with 180 units.

According to Rocklin director of long-range planning Laura Webster, the St. Anton units will be single-bedroom and lack age restrictions, which might help homeless individuals avoid paying for space they don’t need.

Scott Horrillo of Rocklin Police Department mentioned that the city is also providing a “homeless court,” as an alternative to tickets or jail time. A homeless person breaking certain laws could have the option to clear citation charges with hours of community service.

For Lincoln, Councilman Stan Nader presented a more dire portrait of homelessness. Abandoned houses have become a problem and despite an arrangement with The Gathering Inn to provide transport from Lincoln to the Roseville shelter, Nader said, Lincoln’s 45 identified homeless people don’t seem to want help. The Lincoln councilman said businesses and residents are “beside themselves” after seeing broken windows and break-ins.

Nader said he has been trying to gain traction with the rest of Lincoln City Council. But when a project with Mercy Housing fell through, Nader said, parks and recreation talked about putting a park on the property.

“The hair on the back of my neck stood up,” Nader said. “I want to see affordable housing go there.”