City government

Activists seek support for homeless lockers

By From page A1 | August 21, 2013

The Rev. Bill Habicht shows off lockers for the homeless that were built in 2007 at Davis 
Community Church. New lockers have been proposed by another group to provide those in need with a safe, secure place to store personal belongings. A site has not yet been chosen. Fred Gladdis/
Enterprise photo

The Rev. Bill Habicht shows off lockers for the homeless that were built in 2007 at Davis Community Church. New lockers have been proposed by another group to provide those in need with a safe, secure place to store personal belongings. A site has not yet been chosen. Fred Gladdis/ Enterprise photo

It takes some effort to prepare for a job interview.

From choreographing responses to interview questions, to cleaning up an old résumé, even to picking out the appropriate attire, there’s a lot that weighs on the mind.

But for those looking for work while living on the street, there’s a physical weight as well.

In addition to that normal pre-interview routine, homeless folks also must round up their personal belongings, often the majority of their worldly possessions, and lug it all with them.

Mostly, they have no other choice.

“What are your alternatives?” asked Lawson Snipes, one of Davis’ roughly 114 homeless people and the founder of The Spare Changer, a nonprofit “street sheet” that Snipes began publishing in 2005.

“Your alternatives are (leaving belongings in) bushes, between buildings, behind Dumpsters — if you’re really clever you might even put them in the Dumpster, this way you know nobody is going to steal them … you’ve just got to get there before they take the garbage.”

To help address this problem, Snipes and volunteers at “The Spange” have been scheduling sit-downs with Davis City Council members to garner support for a ‘lockers for the homeless’ project that would offer individuals a secure place to keep their things.

Similar to programs that have cropped up across the country in cities like Portland, Chicago and Washington, D.C., the lockers would give homeless individuals a space to safely store items essential to subsisting on the streets such as clothes, medicine, sleeping bags and backpacks.

Snipes, who’s trying to move out of homelessness himself, says that many living on the street run into myriad problems in keeping personal possessions safe. Items are often stolen, ruined by inclement weather or simply thrown out.

What’s more, “looking homeless” can stall attempts to move out from the margins of society, as prospective employers or teachers or doctors can be apprehensive about an employee showing up with shopping carts or plastic bags full of belongings.

“That makes getting a job virtually impossible because who’s going to hire you?” Snipes asked. “How are you going to get past an interview if, in an employer’s mind (he thinks): ‘Well, where is he going to keep his stuff?’ ”

Further, Snipes says the program would give homeless individuals something to call their own, while also helping to maintain Davis’ “pristine environment.”

Councilman Lucas Frerichs, who’s scheduled to meet with the organization soon, says he’s supportive of the project and has urged city staff to begin working to put an item on a future City Council agenda for discussion.

Staff is looking to sit down with the proponents next week, according to Danielle Foster, the city’s housing and human services superintendent.

But while most, if not all of the council members, appear behind the idea for the project, Frerichs said, now it’s a matter of finding the right location for the lockers.

“It might be possible to have them located at some sort of city location or city-owned property,” Frerichs said. “As far as specific locations, we haven’t really ultimately gotten there yet.”

Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk called the initiative a “worthy idea,” while also saying that location would be one of the top issues the city, the community and the proponents would have to work out together.

Location, meanwhile, has been a problem for past efforts to implement a homeless locker program in Davis.

In 2007, members of the Davis Community Church, 412 C St., with the help of Grace House and Harper Junior High School, built and installed custom wooden lockers for the homeless and stored them in a shed on the church grounds.

Once the lockers were in place, however, nearby residents brought concerns to the City Council about adding more services for the homeless to their neighborhood. The Short-Term Emergency Aid Committee operates its pantry across the street and Grace in Action, then called Grace House, operated down the street, among other services in the vicinity. Grace House has since moved.

The council eventually signed a memorandum of understanding with the church — which, under a special infill zoning, has the autonomy to implement such services without city approval — that precluded it from starting a program without city review.

The MOU has since expired, but it doesn’t appear that DCC will be a viable location for the locker program.

The Rev. Bill Habicht, associate pastor at DCC, says the church cannot accommodate the program at this time as the space that was set aside for the lockers is in transition.

Snipes is fully aware of the importance of picking the proper location for the project and also hashing out the details that will make it successful.

Similar to other programs throughout the country, Snipes says the individuals who would be given lockers would have access to them only during certain times of the day, possibly from 6 to 8 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., in part to keep the area from becoming a gathering spot.

Snipes also says each person offered a locker would be case-managed, possibly by a city staff member or volunteers, to ensure that they are making strides to find work, hold jobs or attend school.

Councilman Brett Lee, meanwhile, wants to take things even further.

Lee believes the city’s public works corporation yard, 1717 Fifth St., could provide a long-term space for the lockers. But he doesn’t think the city should stop with lockers.

“I’d kind of like there to be a nonprofit zone where we make available land and resources for several nonprofits to locate there,” Lee said this week. “There could be something like a restroom, laundry facility, lockers, but then also an office for legal aid and helping people understand how they apply for benefits … maybe a health care clinic that’s staffed once or twice a week.”

Lee says with four or five entities operating on the same site, operations and costs would become more manageable and it also would present those seeking the services sort of a “one-stop shop.”

STEAC leaders were offered space at the corporation yard earlier this year when the organization was looking to build a larger facility to accommodate its operation, but they chose to remain at STEAC’s existing site at Fifth and D streets downtown.

Proponents of the locker project have filmed a roughly 28-minute video about the program to bolster their efforts in lobbying the community and the City Council to get behind the idea. It can be viewed below or found at http://vimeo.com/71283551.

LOCKERS: The City of Davis Lockers for the Homeless Project from Rich Sequest on Vimeo.

— Reach Tom Sakash at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected], (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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