UKIAH, 7/28/2017 — The Ukiah City Planning Commission approved “site development permits” for a homeless resource center and winter homeless shelter at a public hearing on July 26. Both facilities will be located at 1045 South State Street, the site of the most recent winter homeless shelter. Once opened the resource center will operate seven days a week all year round, while overnight services will only be available during the winter months. If this plan goes through this will be the location of the winter shelter every year.
At Wednesday night’s hearing, two dozen residents spoke during public comment, 23 of them in support of the project — only one, local veterinarian Ed Haynes, expressed opposition. Commission Chair Michael Whetzel also said that he was opposed to the location of the shelter, saying commissioners “spent a whole lot of time on what we want as the gateway to the city.”
The timeline for the project was not addressed, and city staff, including the Fire Marshall and the Public Works Department, will have to approve plans before renovations can proceed.
Redwood Community Services (RCS), a non-profit organization that contracts with the county to provide mental health care, plans to purchase the property from Robert Gitlin. RCS will run the resource center as well as the homeless shelter. Plans for the resource center include bathroom and laundry facilities, internet access, and counseling services. The Ukiah Valley Medical Center’s Street Medicine Program, the Mendocino County AIDS and Viral Hepatitis Network, and the Ford Street Program will provide many of these services. RCS requested a permit for up to 60 beds for the winter shelter, an increase from the 44 beds that were available at last winter’s shelter. Ukiah Fire Marshall Kevin Jennings told commissioners he would “look at the plans very closely,” and that there is a possibility that the space will contain fewer than 60 beds.
RCS proposes to renovate 4,600 square feet of the 7,000 square-foot building, install a facade and fence along the northern and eastern ends of the building, put in landscaping, and cultivate a community garden. Commissioners asked that RCS hold public meetings twice a month, to address concerns that may arise in the neighborhood.
Maya Stuart, a Health and Human Services Agency employee who started working on the winter shelter last September, told commissioners that she had spoken with over 50 landlords before RCS decided to buy the property on South State Street. “Nobody would rent to us,” she explained.
Commissioner Mark Hilliker asked if there was “a silver lining” to a project like the proposed homeless shelter, wondering if recipients of the promised mental health care would become productive members of society.
Some formerly homeless people responded to commissioners’ remarks, including a man named Jesse Duggar who said he is now a mental health care worker, after coming to Ukiah from Laytonville and using the Buddy Eller shelter and rehab facilities. “I was a throwaway,” he said, adding that “The only argument I hear against this plan is some really derogatory negative stuff. You know, we’re going to throw away the south end of town. We’re not throwing away the south end of town. We’re talking about throwing humans away…the south end of town is not that great. It’s a bunch of cheap housing.” He told commissioners that in his current work, “I give a lot back to the community.” Speaking directly to Hilliker, he said, “You were asking for a silver lining, what’s the outcome. I’ve done pretty well for myself.”
Commissioner Laura Christensen asked Captain Justin Wyatt of the Ukiah Police Department for his assessment of the project. Wyatt did not have exact numbers of homelessness-related calls regarding last year’s shelter, but said he recalled that “The impact was pretty minimal,” and that “There were 44 people we weren’t policing out of doorways.” He added that “We’ve proven that enforcement is the least effective way to deal with it,” and that he and RCS staff are in agreement that the current project should reduce homelessness-related calls to the police department.
Second District Supervisor John McCowen asked that the shelter be limited to county residents, which the commissioners declined. Jacquie Williams, the Executive Director of the Ford Street Project, told commissioners that the shelter would be disqualified from receiving some federal funds if it had such a policy in place.
Near 10pm the commissioners voted 4 to 0, with one recusal, to approve a major use permit and a major site development permit to the shelter and resource center. Sanders moved both actions, and Christensen seconded them. Whetzel agreed, but told the assembled crowd of about 40 residents that he was voting yes “with reservations,” due to the location of the project. Commissioner Christopher Watt recused himself, due to a conflict of interest.