St. James Lutheran’s Micro Shelter Project Earns City Council Approval

A two-person micro shelter on display at St. James Lutheran Church. Photo courtesy City of Redding.

Redding’s first venture into emergency shelters got the green light Tuesday, despite the objections of a handful of the project’s neighbors near St. James Lutheran Church on Shasta View Drive.

With a 3-1 vote, the Redding City Council approved, in concept, a proposal by the church to host four temporary micro shelters that could house up to five homeless people for stays not to exceed 10 months. The approval is good for one year, after which the council will consider a renewal.

Councilmember Michael Daquisto cast the lone dissenting vote, citing the concerns voiced by neighbors of what is being called Goodwater Crossing, and Councilmember Julie Winter was absent. The project will return to the council after City Manager Barry Tippin researches a question related to the California Environmental Quality Act; City Attorney Barry DeWalt expressed confidence the emergency shelters would be considered exempt from CEQA requirements.

Pam Crowe, a supporter of the micro shelter community, said the tiny homes, coupled with wraparound social services, will allow residents “to get back on their feet with dignity.”

Heather Sherman, who lives next to the church, urged the council to reject the project, calling it “a glorified homeless camp” that doesn’t belong in a neighborhood. “It doesn’t feel respectful to people to live in a small box,” she added.

A total of four shelters were approved for Goodwater Crossing. Photo courtesy City of Redding.

Goodwater Crossing will initially start with four sleeping cabins, three of which will house one resident and one designed for two people. It will be operated by a program manager, local service providers and volunteers. A coordinator will be on-site or on-call 24 hours a day. There will be separate bathroom and laundry buildings.

The project, which will be located on church property, can expand up to 12 shelters pending approval by the Planning Commission. Operational and capital costs are estimated to be $338,000, to be funded by grants and donations.

Volunteers and CHYBA students hard at work. Photo courtesy of City of Redding.

A year ago, the council declared a shelter crisis in Redding, clearing the way for the establishment of emergency housing sites. Emergency sites can accommodate a maximum of 30 people. Site operators must show how they plan to discourage excessive noise or loitering as well as an operating plan detailing coordination with service providers and community partners.

Retired therapist Robert Grosch, who told the council he has worked with the homeless community, spoke in support of Goodwater Crossing. Without a roof over their head, he said, homeless people are hard-pressed to meet the other challenges involved with improving their situations.

Kim Cobbler, whose work at the Smart Business Resource Center also put her in contact with unsheltered people, questioned the Goodwater Crossing drug policy—specifically the lack of screening and testing. “You need months and months of sobriety to be successful before you get there,” Cobbler said.

Deputy City Manager Steve Bade told council members the emergency housing site will be a “no barrier” facility and that being under the influence would not be grounds for eviction. However, “continued bad actions” can get residents ousted under the city’s operating guidelines, Tippin added.

“And the applicants agree to these conditions?” Councilmember Mark Mezzano asked. “Yes,” Tippin replied.

“We’re looking for people who are motivated but can’t get their footing,” said Katie Swartz, the Christian education coordinator for St. James Lutheran Church. “We’re not wanting to bring people in who are dangerous. We’re a church community. We’re looking for average human beings.”

Swartz said Goodwater Crossing will only accept residents being referred to the church. “We’re not pulling them off the street,” she said, telling Councilmember Erin Resner that the typical resident could be college students living in their cars, the elderly or possibly somebody completing rehabilitation at Empire Recovery or Visions of the Cross “who need a place to land.”

Michael Williamson was one such person, telling the council that he had been homeless for seven of the last eight and a half years. He said he’s been clean and sober for nine months. “I hear concerns but no solutions. It will never be convenient to help people change their lives. If not now, when?” Williamson added that people should be clean and sober when entering an emergency housing site like Goodwater Crossing. “They need a hand up, not a handout.”

“It’s a complicated issue with no easy solutions,” Mayor Kristen Schreder said, “but we have to start somewhere.” She said she visited with Williamson when he was living in a homeless encampment. “You can’t imagine how people are living like that but they are. Michael’s a perfect example, finding support in the community. They need services and they need housing.”

Emergency housing sites have worked well in Eugene, Ore., Schreder said. “This is not an experiment but evidence-based. The city has taken meaningful steps to get to this point.”

“Have a little faith,” Mezzano said. “The city put together the guidelines and asked for operators. St. James Lutheran stepped up. We’re turning people into better providing members of society. We’ll make sure it works with four (units) before we jump to six or seven. And I am committed to enforcing those rules. If the church doesn’t live up to its end, we’ll revoke their permit.”

Students enrolled in CHYBA (California Heritage YouthBuild Academy) during construction. Photo courtesy City of Redding.

The shelters are being constructed by students in the Redding-based California Heritage YouthBuild Academy, a charter school that helps young adults earn a high school diploma along with leadership and technical skills.

Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.

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