Where will homeless go in wake of Yuba City park project?
Call Brad McIntire at 822-4652 to aid relocation of homeless.
As Yuba City prepares to break ground on the long-awaited Willow Island park project, it has one major challenge to face: The displacement of hundreds of homeless who typically call that stretch of the riverbottoms home.
Homeless advocates estimate that potentially more than 100 men, women and children camp in the 80 acres designated for Yuba City's new parkway. That number often tops 300 in the summer, when construction is slated to begin, and all will have to relocate.
The question: Where to?
"We can't just say, 'You have to stay on this side of the levee now,'" said Jim Leonard, of Interfaith Homeless Ministries. "There's got to be a place for them to go."
With less than three months before the homeless must vacate, a subcommittee of the Sutter-Yuba Homeless Consortium met last week to tackle the issue. "I don't think we have any easy quick answer," said David Westover, a consortium board member. "Those who really have no place else to go, we want to reach out and find a solution for them. But we realize we are not able to help everyone."
Many of the homeless are already aware of their impending eviction, Leonard said.
Some residents will move on to other riverbottoms locations, others may reconnect with families or friends, and a few may take advantage of housing at Twin Cities Rescue Mission, shelters outside Yuba-Sutter or possibly through A Hand Up Ministries.
But families, couples, women and children, and people with pets have little, if any, options, Leonard said. They would love a place that, like overnight cold-weather housing provided by the Regional Emergency Shelter Team, screens people and provides a safe place to live and keep their belongings.
The committee's prevailing idea is to create a tent city.
Any brick and mortar solutions would take too long to approve and set up, and there are simply too many people and too many restrictions to house everyone with existing resources. But, the committee said, if an empty space could be located and fenced, and a screening process could be established, it could help many of those displaced.
"A tent city is politically undesirable for 17 reasons we all know, but I don't see any other way," said Mike Mannshardt of Hands of Hope.
It likely will not be a short-term setup because the economy is not changing any time soon, he said.
"We can't hide it," he said. "We are going to have to accept that the economy sucks, and there is only so much the cities and counties can do."
Relocation assistance may be the only way to prevent the homeless from moving into other public spaces, breaking into vacant homes for shelter and causing spikes in crime, substance abuse and other problems, committee members said.
They also recognized inevitable challenges with the mentally ill and others who will not want to vacate.
But, they said, this may be the opportunity to finally address an ongoing problem otherwise ignored and forgotten.
"Everyone needs to face up to the idea these people did not come from somewhere else," Mannshardt said. "And as the numbers grow, it is because they are becoming homeless in our community. They are going to be on our streets if we do not find them a place to stay. You can't just say, 'Go away.'"
The committee considered using the vacant Leo Chesney Center or empty space at Richland Housing, but those locations were ruled out for reasons of proximity and availability.
Joe Grinell, executive director of the Twin Cities Rescue Mission, thought of a vacant lot in between the Marysville mission and the former Yuba County Annex building that was demolished this week. It's out of the way, in an easily accessible location and already mostly fenced off for security, he said.
Committee members liked the idea and finally parted ways after agreeing to pursue a tent city near the rescue mission while keeping their eyes open for other locations. They will meet again in two weeks.
Notifications in May
The city's plan is to start notifying the homeless of their impending eviction around May 28, six weeks before they need to leave, and make a second notification three weeks later. A police officer and homeless advocate will walk the riverbottoms from encampment to encampment and provide resource information.
Yuba City has spent the last three years waiting to move forward with the Willow Island park project, after receiving a $1.4 million grant but needing approval from the Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Fish and Game.
Approval was finally granted in recent weeks, and the City Council voted on Tuesday night to go out to bid for the project, which includes pathways, bike trails, picnic areas, interpretative signs and woodland restoration. Construction would begin July 9, with the major components of the park completed by October.
Brad McIntire, director of parks and recreation, said the city realizes the sensitivity in that the park project is displacing riverbottoms residents, but maybe it will spur action to aid the homeless from the community at large.
"I hope this is the catalyst to make something good happen for a problem that we've had for a long time that's just been ignored," McIntire said.
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4783. Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.