The Brookings City Council will hold a workshop Monday to determine how it might create a zoning use within its comprehensive plan map to accommodate the needs of the homeless.
The workshop is slated for 4 p.m. at city hall on Elk Drive.
The issue has come to a head this fall as people without permanent shelter have set up tents on public land throughout the West. In Brookings, it led to the library changing its code of conduct to drive a dozen or so homeless people out of its parking lot area after numerous complaints about drug and alcohol use, inappropriate behavior and language and other issues.
The council will consider an option to add to its comprehensive plan an “overlay zone” to allow “outright permitted” or conditional use permits, depending on the area of town, for shelters.
The city is limited in what it can do, said City Manager Janell Howard, as it is not in the construction business. Municipalities can, however, change zoning laws or reduce charges for infrastructure such as sewer and water lines.
Similar conditional uses listed in the city’s Land Development Code currently include churches, hospitals, charitable institutions, community buildings, social halls, lodges, clubs, and fraternal organizations.
Considerations for homeless shelters would likely include site requirements, proximity to services, concentration of such facilities to prevent an “institutionalized ghetto” that can occur when social service providers concentrate their offices in one area, and the type of clientele that most needs to be served, among other issues.
Examples in California
California passed legislation in 2008 that requires every city and county to “explicitly recognize emergency shelters in their zoning codes,” and create zoning — without conditional use permits or variances — for such facilities.
“Traditionally, homeless shelters were seen as a basic utilitarian housing for the poor,” a report titled Zoning for Shelter for the Homeless reads. “They were often crowded and lacked basic design amenities. Recently, there has been an effort to raise the standards to make them fit in better with the neighborhood and be a more inspirational place for the clients.”
According to a report from Menlo Park, city officials first adopted a “housing first” approach to addressing the needs of the homeless in 2013. Its intention is to first provide those without shelter a place to live and complement it later with other needed services. The ultimate goal is to get that person or their family into sustainable, permanent housing.
At the time, the city was going to see if local churches might provide temporary campsites or other shelter for the homeless — a topic that was brought up as a possibility in the last Brookings City Council meeting.
Menlo Park then established an overlay in its heavy-industrial area where such facilities could be developed.
The report indicates the program recognizes homeless shelters can negatively affect the neighborhoods in which they are built — and “interferes with the normalization process” for people using them — and thus encourages the facilities to be dispersed throughout the city.
It also encourages providers of such housing to conduct outreach in the neighborhoods to overcome barriers and assimilate the populations. Such shelters were to be developed to protect the health, safety and general welfare of nearby residents and businesses while providing for the needs of the homeless, as required in state law.
The photos included in the article depict a modern-style center that provides services in Santa Monica, California, a quaint Craftsman bungalow that serves as a homeless facility in Jackson, California, and a large, three-story home that provides shelter for families in San Mateo.
Menlo Park aimed to create an overlay zone with criteria based on land availability, compatible nearby uses and proximity to services, jobs and transit systems.
“The definition of emergency shelters (state code reads) is housing with minimal supportive services for homeless persons that is limited to occupancy of six months or less,” the report reads. “No individual or household may be denied emergency shelter because of an inability to pay.”
Also outlined in Menlo Park’s program is considerations its council took to determine the maximum number of beds permitted at shelter facilities, security, off-street parking needs, on-site management and the proximity to other shelters. The reuse or conversion of existing buildings is also encouraged.
A quality assurance standard in California recommends offering outdoor gathering areas, laundry facilities, safe storage place, a diverse staff, accommodations for those with disabilities, assistance in locating permanent housing, life-skills classes and play areas for family-oriented shelters.
California law allows municipalities to regulate the number of beds in an emergency shelter, too, but says the numbers must “facilitate, promote and encourage” such housing. In 2013, shelters in Menlo Park ranged from six to 87 beds. The state also allows jurisdictions to establish a 300-foot distance between facilities.
There, the definition of a length of stay is 30 or 60 days, and they considered an ordinance to allow extensions if no other housing options are available.