A 24-hour homeless respite center on the outermost fringe of the City of Sacramento will be turned into a 50-bed homeless shelter – right next door to the Sacramento Children’s Receiving Home, Renfree Baseball Park, and Del Paso Regional Park.
The Globe has learned that what was serving only as a respite center, with the begrudging approval of the nearby neighborhoods, is being turned into an actual shelter, and without the approval of City Council members or the nearby neighborhood groups.
But that was not the original deal according to neighbors. The former Discovery Museum Science & Space Center, first opened in 1967, was closed by the City in 2020, to be turned into an administration building for the city, as well as a 24-hour respite center for the homeless to cool off in the summer heat, or warm up in the winter.
Sacramento Children’s Receiving Home is a home for children and young adults who have suffered abuse and neglect. Harry Renfree Field, created in 1967, was Sacramento’s first ballpark with outdoor electric lights.
The Globe spoke with Ron Jelison, a third generation resident of the Sacramento neighborhood. Jelison grew up on his family’s ranch located behind the science center.
Complicating the issue is a jurisdiction fight – the area is part city, part county and part state.
Jelison said the City has long ignored the area, but now find it convenient for locating homeless because it is so far away from City Hall and from the residents of the city. Jelison said for decades, the people of Arden and Carmichael have fought over a peculiar piece of land – often called “The Peninsula” or “The Thorn.” This land, while part of the City of Sacramento, doesn’t contain any city residents. “It’s a park too far… city boundaries touch the edge of the park,” Jelison said. “The city never designated the property as a park, and instead treated it as a real estate investment.” Jelison said the city has sold off some parcels of the park.
Instead, it is home to Haggin Oaks and Del Paso Parks, the Children’s Receiving Home, and the now closed Sciences Museum. Due to its unique location, the only people who use the park, and are effected by it, live in the unincorporated county neighborhoods of Arden and Carmichael.
Once a jewel in Sacramento’s Baseball History, Harry Renfree Field is now a monument of neglect by the City of Sacramento, Jelison said. As with the Discovery Museum Science & Space Center, the City of Sacramento abandoned Renfree Field. But, in this case, they neglected it completely and let it rot away.
Jelison said the City of Sacramento has plans for the refurbishment of Del Paso Park and Harry Renfree Field, which include a new layout for the baseball diamond into two smaller fields, suitable for softball or Little League games, as well as an overlaying soccer field, and the addition of new basketball and futsal courts. The plan also includes a small playground where the snack bar once stood.
However he said, the city’s plan reveals the fact that they have no cohesive, long term plan, and it is all predicated on an iffy $3.2M grant from the City of Sacramento, via the Prop. 68 Statewide Park Program. The City’s renovation plan: “Renovate Del Paso Regional Park’s Harry Renfree Field in the City of Sacramento. Construct a new basketball court, futsal court, multi-use sports fields for baseball/softball and soccer, and accessible pathways.”
Was this lip service to appease the nearby residents?
Bottom line Jelison says, is that the City abandoned the park, science center and baseball diamond venues long ago.
And now the bait and switch with the homeless center is a bridge too far. Once these venues were abandoned, drug addicts, prostitutes and their johns moved in. “There was a prostitution ring living and working in Renfree Field – they burned down the bleachers and snack bar,” Jelison said.
Some years ago, Jelison said he worked to get the City to declare Del Paso Park designated a natural riparian habitat. This helped greatly. There is no “living” in the park, and anyone who tries is immediately removed.
Jelison and neighbors organized, met with County Supervisors, and shared their concerns about the neglected baseball diamond and park, and science center being turned into a homeless shelter. The Supervisors met with City Manager Howard Chan and struck a deal – the building would only be used for staffing the 3rd party administration running the center, and as a respite center as needed in the heat and cold weather.
March 1, 2022 this was codified at a City Council meeting with the Mayor. Jelison said by June, the Mayor reneged. “Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg plans to propose a new 24-hour respite and navigation center to serve homeless residents in Sacramento,” ABC 10 reported. “The proposal aims to allow the city-owned property at 3615 Auburn Boulevard, which was formerly the Powerhouse Science Center, to be turned into a round-the-clock facility to serve residents experiencing homelessness.”
Steinberg’s proposal starts with a program to house and serve 50 people 24 hours a day.
“How can we let a city asset that is not being utilized – where we have put $3.3 million dollars by the way towards its use – How can we not use that to put people indoors and navigate their way out of homelessness?” Mayor Steinberg said, seeming to indicate the $3.3 million grant would be repurposed to be used for the homeless.
Jelison said there is no allowance for background checks on the homeless showing up. They could be recently released from state prison or jail, be on parole, or a homeless drug addict.
“The Mayor is pushing this culture next to the Children’s Receiving Home,” Jelison said. “The City had only one problem: the site is located within feet of the Children’s Receiving Home. So, when the City first attempted to create the Homeless Shelter, they, intentionally, didn’t warn the families in Arden, Carmichael, or even the Children’s Receiving Home.”
And no one is addressing the toxic waste, mountains of trash and pollution the homeless leave behind in the area. He said there is a homeless guy living under the bridge at Arcade Creek. “He cooks meth. We’ve tried to get him to accept help,” Jelison said. But the guy doesn’t want it. “The meth leeches into the creek.”
Jelison and the neighbors do 3 to 4 cleanups of the area every week. “We take out tons of trash every week. We picked up 1,000 dirty needles recently,” he said. “What’s left is disintegrating into the soil – needles, condoms, tampons – and rains leech this into the soil and runoff to the creek.”
“Our group was instrumental in removing 30 to 35 campers on the nearby Caltrans property,” Jelison said. “We’d been trying to get them moved. There was a hole in the fence, and we saw tents and some very young girls in them. We couldn’t get anyone to do anything because the property touches all three jurisdictions: City, County and Caltrans (state). It took Caltrans getting sued to get the camps moved out.”
“Our volunteers spent three weekends cleaning the area up.”
Neighbors have also checked in on the respite center. Jelison said only 1 homeless person has used it. “The Mayor calls is a ‘triage center,’ but the County says they won’t support it because they have a facility less than two miles away,” Jelison said.
“These issues are non-political – they are personal,” Jelison said. The neighbors group is not political at all he added. “At the grassroots, we are rejecting the political. The common goal is our community.”
“Until this ‘housing first’ money runs out, this is what we are stuck with.”
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