Placerville City Council approved a 90-day special use permit for a homeless encampment, Hangtown Haven, to be located at 1700 Broadway at Tuesday’s meeting. The temporary camp is a pilot program to see if it can help alleviate some of the problems associated with the homeless population and the current crop of illegal camps throughout the city.
Current city code does not allow camping in the city parks or other public property. According to City Manager Cleve Morris, illegal homeless camps bring a host of potential and actual problems: substance abuse issues, hygiene issues with personal waste, accidental fires from illegal campfires, problems for other users of city parks and danger to the homeless in very cold or hot weather.
“With the economic problems, the homeless issue is not getting better,” said Morris, ” It’s getting worse.”
Some help for the homeless already exists: the Upper Room on Broadway provides meals for the homeless; the Community Resource Center on Broadway provides a place to secure personal items, take a shower, wash clothing and computers to aid in looking for jobs and the faith-based community offers a nomadic shelter during the winter months and lunches for the homeless at different sites throughout the city.
A recent clean-up of homeless camps in Lumsden park by the police, the Community Resource Center and some of the homeless relocated camps out of the park, but eventually people return to the areas from which they have been removed.
Morris, Vice Mayor Wendy Mattson and homeless coordinator Art Edwards, have been meeting with others to find a way to resolve the illegal camping issue.
Earlier in the Tuesday night meeting, City Council approved an ordinance permitting one emergency housing facility in a Highway Commercial zone, identified on upper Broadway. This ordinance goes into effect in 30 days, on Aug.9, and clears a path for the establishment of a temporary trial-run encampment.
“The city will sign a 90-day free lease with the Wilkinson family who owns the property,” said Morris. “After the improvements are made, there is a possibility people can move there in the next two weeks.”
After the lease is signed, there are property improvements that need to be completed—fencing the 1-acre camp to establish boundaries, grading and clearing the area of fire hazards and overgrowth, and a gravel driveway. These improvements, along with a trash dumpster donated by El Dorado Disposal and donated portable toilets and wash stations, come to a total cost of $4,000, not including labor.
After a meeting with the faith-based community, the city received $1,500 in donations from them towards the cost of the encampment, and on Tuesday afternoon, received a check for $10,000 to cover all the costs and provide seed money for Hangtown Haven.
The labor to put up the fencing, do the grading and clearing will come from volunteers, including those from the homeless community, said Mattson. In addition, former councilman Dave Machado will act as project manager to oversee and direct the volunteer efforts as part of his required 960 hours of community service.
The CRC will oversee Hangtown Haven and use screening protocols for the entry of the homeless to the site. They will also assist the homeless population in self-policing the facility in accordance with adopted rules.
“There is an intake packet which is a key component of this camp,” said Mattson. “They must agree to the five camp rules and be an El Dorado County resident. We want to know who’s there, what they are doing and to be able to get them the resources they need to lift them out of the homeless cycle. And we want to release the parks back to families.”
Placerville Police Chief George Nielsen has been a part of the committee trying to resolve the homeless issue and supports the temporary camp.
“I’ve been involved in terms of health and safety issues,” said Nielsen. “I see this camp as an opportunity to provide a place to camp legally and we can be empowered to clear out illegal camps and have a place for them to go. Not everyone will want to go to the camp, but this 90-day trial will help us see how things can work.”
Resident Michael Drobesh questioned whether the surrounding property owners had been notified of the encampment. The city is not required to notify neighbors of a special use permit, said Morris. Community Development and Engineering Director Michael Webb said that one neighbor, Hangtown Motel, had been involved in the discussions.
“The fire chief and the Wilkinson family are the closest neighbors and they are in full support ,” said Mattson.
The 90-day special use permit was approved by a 4-0 vote.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.