Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has been pushing for permanent housing for the city’s homeless. While that may sound reasonable and even decent, the latest project to provide tiny apartments in a renovated old downtown hotel will cost more than $445,000 per unit for about 250 square feet of living space.
Still in its old state, the Capitol Park Hotel is currently home to some homeless, but it wasn’t always this way. The Capitol Park Hotel was used for decades as housing for low-income disabled adults, as California Globe reported in 2019. The city kicked them out in June of last year, and announced the hotel would be renovated at a cost of $23 million. Steinberg even said at the time the hotel would have 180 beds for homeless by August 2019.
At the original 2019 estimate of $23 million to renovate the Capitol Park Hotel into a homeless apartment shelter, the unit cost was already $128,000-per-bed. This has ballooned up to $445,000 per bed – more than three times the original estimate in just one year.
The Mayor and city officials kicked out the low-income disabled adults who paid rent, and moved in some “homeless.”
The hotel used to house 180 residents; when completed, the Capitol Park Hotel will house only 134 of the city’s 6,000+ homeless.
A local advocate said these “homeless” are the drug addicts and mentally ill who refuse the city services. “To call them ‘homeless’ is an insult to those that are truly down on their luck. They are ‘vagrants, ‘criminals,’ ‘druggies,’ and ‘junkies’ who have chosen this lifestyle.”
The advocate suggested that the Capitol Park Hotel renovation, and others like it, was more of a real estate project than sincere homeless housing.
Government Byzantine of Regulations
The renovation project has devolved into a web of bureaucratic restrictions, with local, state and federal government involved.
One of the first problems is the notion of “permanent housing” for the homeless.
Rev. Andy Bales, head of L.A.’s Union Rescue Mission, has a great deal of experience in helping the homeless. He has advised the City of Los Angeles many times — how they could provide clean and comfortable temporary barracks-style shelter, with plumbing and kitchens, security, etc. — for $10,000 a bed. Bales and many of the state’s real homeless advocates say temporary shelter is actually the best answer for the category of homeless who will accept shelter and services, and who only need a respite before getting back to taking care of themselves.
Los Angeles wasn’t interested. Sacramento isn’t interested either, despite many local groups already effectively dealing with homeless offering their blueprints.
Bales addresses this notion of permanent housing: “The city’s current strategy — focusing almost exclusively on permanent supportive housing — takes too long, is too expensive, and addresses the needs of only 20%-25% of Los Angeles’ homeless population,” Bales said in an op ed last year in LA Downtown News.
Why Permanent Housing?
The Sacramento Bee asks “why does sheltering the homeless cost so much?”
Redevelopment of the hotel is now budgeted at $59.6 million, (up from $23 million last year) and is expected to be completed in the summer of 2022 (not August 2019).
“If it stays on budget, the project will come to $1,100 per square foot — more than double the square-foot price to build a luxury home in El Dorado Hills or Granite Bay, or to buy a high-end midtown apartment,” the Bee reported.
While the Bee asked a good question, it isn’t the right question, because it doesn’t cost so much to “shelter” homeless. Local advocates say the only successful model is a triage facility which assesses the individual, provides shelter and appropriate services: drug rehabilitation, mental health counseling, or facilitating coordination of local services for the truly “homeless” families needing shelter, work and school for children.
“One of the many things Dr. Drew Pinsky talks about are the ‘resistant cases,’ the transients who refuse services, shelter and treatment,” Ramona Russell reported at California Globe in a January interview with Dr. Drew Pinsky. “He believes these cases represent about sixty to eighty-five percent of the homeless population, and one of the biggest reasons for this is anosognosia, a condition in which the person is unaware of having a disability. This deficit in self-awareness, which blocks the brain to a person’s insight, affects patients with dementia, stroke, psychiatric illnesses and drug addiction.”
Pinsky became an advocate for solving what he calls a drug addiction and mental health crisis, not a housing crisis. “The vast majority have serious mental illness and drug addiction, which means they are not going to magically walk in to housing and have their problems disappear,” Pinsky said. “If you’re not motivating people to get better, you’re condemning them to die.”
Local taxpayers should be asking “why are we providing permanent housing for drug-addicted homeless vagrants when a shelter and triage services are more appropriate, and more effective?”
Ironically, as the Globe reported in 2019, “the city just closed a triage shelter for the vagrants living on the streets.”
When the city closed the triage shelter in 2019, it was to move the funds over to the Capitol Park Hotel renovation… which now won’t be open until 2022, with 134 units, and at more than three times the cost.
This is where and how the city’s drug-addicted, mentally-ill homeless vagrants live.