Sutter County seeks to repurpose sheriff’s training center into homeless shelter | TheUnion.com

Sutter County seeks to repurpose sheriff’s training center into homeless shelter

Rachel Rosenbaum
Special to The Union

Sutter County officials propose repurposing Whiteaker Hall to serve as a homeless shelter by April next year, according to the Oct. 24 Board of Supervisors' meeting agenda.

If approved, staff would apply for a total of $1.2 million in federal grant funds and would aim to house people by April 1.

The proposed shelter at 44 Second St. in Yuba City would be equipped to immediately house 60 to 90 people in bunk-style sleeping arrangements, according to the staff report. It states that if the actual need is for more room, it will be possible to add tents or other sleeping options to the south and west of the building, as well as possibly expanding the facility itself.

While the total cost of repurposing Whiteaker Hall — which currently serves as the Sheriff Training Facility — is yet to be known, the project is eligible for $709,233 and $500,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds. The funds would not only cover repurposing, but three-year operating costs as well (including 24/7 security). But in order to apply for the funds, a public hearing will need to be held Nov. 7.

“This is a profound issue, one of the most challenging issues the community has faced in years. As a result, something has to be done. It cannot be ignored because it will only get worse.”

— Sutter County Administrator Scott Mitnick

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Staff would need to relocate existing sheriff's office services, which include the shooting range, work release program, and other training programs. According to the staff report, staff has identified county-owned property in Sutter to accommodate a temporary shooting range, which would likely take two to four months to construct and relocate. There would likely be a General Fund cost. The report states that other county facilities will be identified to support the remaining Sheriff's Office services.

In the meantime, the General Fund budget contains $100,000 for possible use of local motel or hotel vouchers and related uses during the cold and wet winter months.

The last Board of Supervisors meeting addressed the county's regulation of camping, though many residents stood to speak about the temporary homeless shelter, at that time proposed to be a collection of tents on a concrete pad. Most opponents bemoaned the proximity to the airport and the Peach Bowl Little League field.

The staff report states that the location is the most practical and cost-effective.

Official: 'Something has to be done'

Sutter County Administrator Scott Mitnick said public safety is the main priority of the county, and the goal is to not disrupt current sheriff's office services. That said, Whiteaker Hall is ideal for its "bones" – existing restrooms, showers, and kitchen.

"This is a profound issue, one of the most challenging issues the community has faced in years," Mitnick said Friday. "As a result, something has to be done. It cannot be ignored because it will only get worse."

Mitnick said staff has studied a number of area communities, and that there is no ideal center to emulate.

"What's being proposed to the board, from my perspective, should be given an opportunity to be tested," he said. "If the community would be willing to allow a trial run, then pass judgment."

Yuba City Economic Growth and Public Affairs Official Darin Gale said the city fully supports the county's homeless management plan, as there currently is nothing being done.

"As the county determines what they're going to do as this continues to evolve, we hope to be able to have a seat at the table to limit the impact it will have on surrounding businesses and residents," Gale said Friday. "As a result of county's efforts, we believe this will change that so the river bottoms will be a place that, once again, families and residents can enjoy."

Alternative locations identified

Sutter County Health and Human Services Director Nancy O'Hara said this is a step in the right direction.

"Sutter County's homeless population has grown significantly over the past 10 years," O'Hara wrote in an email Friday. "Establishing a temporary housing site is one of the necessary steps in addressing homelessness in Sutter County."

The staff report also provides alternative shelter locations, including the former Butchie's Pool off Garden Highway, vacant or under-sized county facilities, underdeveloped properties within and outside Yuba City, an unused Caltrans property located a few miles south of Yuba City in the Wilson area where Garden Highway ends at Highway 99, and existing private sector buildings on the market for sale.

Within the scope of the project are a number of estimated General Fund costs, including $250,000 to remove and trim vegetation in the Feather River river bottoms; $250,000 to remove debris and environmental cleanup of the Feather River river bottoms; and up to $40,000 to construct a temporary shooting range.

Rachel Rosenbaum is a reporter for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. Contact her at rrosenbaum@appealdemocrat.com.

TIMELINE FOR PROPOSED SHELTER

The estimated timeline of the proposed Sutter County homeless shelter includes:

— Construction completed by March 31, 2018.

— One-year trial period from April 1 to March 31, 2018.

— 60 to 90-day stays, with possible extensions.

— Hands of Hope and Habitat for Humanity would serve as the primary care providers, with Sutter County as the secondary.

— Hours of operation Monday through Sunday, 24 hours per day.

The item will appear on the Oct. 24 Sutter County Board of Supervisor’s agenda.