Woodland addresses homelessness from three angles

Seth Newman of Friends of the Mission, left, Woodland City Manager Ken Hiatt, Woodland City Councilman Tom Stallard, and Scott Thurmond of Friends of the Mission, right, discuss the tiny homes village at its dedication ceremony in November 2022. (Photo by Spencer Bowen/City of Woodland)

By Wendy Weitzel

A Woodland project aims to end the cycle of homelessness by offering a range of lodging and services to help vulnerable residents stay safe, healthy and achieve housing stability.  

When complete, the $35 million East Beamer Neighborhood Campus Project will provide temporary and permanent housing for 170 people and substance use treatment for 60.

The neighborhood includes three complementary parts. The first, a 100-person emergency shelter, opened in early 2021. The second, which opened in October, is a tiny home village of permanent, supportive housing — 31 furnished duplexes of one- and two-bedroom units. The last piece will be a 60-bed treatment facility, Walter’s House, which broke ground on March 31. 

Fourth & Hope, a faith-based nonprofit that provides food, clothing, shelter and recovery help for those in Yolo County, operates the emergency shelter, and will manage Walter’s House.

Oversight of the tiny homes village comes from Yolo County, Fourth & Hope, Friends of the Mission and the City of Woodland.

The facilities at 1901 E. Beamer St. in Woodland are on 2.8 acres clustered around a shared green area, a garden, a community center and a health center. The parcel, donated by the city, was a wastewater treatment plant until the 1980s, and remained vacant since decommissioning and cleanup. Partners in the project came together with a vision for a neighborhood campus serving people with housing instability.  

These homes “provide dignified shelter while those in need work to improve their circumstances,” a Feb. 10 City of Woodland news release said.

One of its residents, Sabrina Truelove, agrees. “Living in the tiny homes has gotten me back on track in my life, [and] allows me to love myself more deeply while I apply for employment within the neighborhood.” Jobs that are within walking or biking distance are vital for people like Truelove who do not have a vehicle.

The city cites evidence from a UC San Francisco study, saying this kind of transitional housing is one of the most effective interventions in reducing homelessness. In a randomized trial, researchers found that permanent supportive housing helps chronically unhoused individuals get shelter and stay housed much more effectively than comparable interventions. The study was published in 2020 in the journal “Health Services Research.”

The tiny home community includes housing for 70 individuals plus an onsite manager, in 31 buildings. The one- and two-bedroom duplexes include two ADA-compliant units. 

“It wasn’t that long ago I stood in an empty field envisioning Fourth & Hope’s future,” said Doug Zeck, the organization’s executive director. “I thought if we could bring homeless services together in one place, we could change many lives.”

Three years later, the emergency shelter and a permanent supportive housing community are complete, and work on Walter’s House begins soon. “This hub of hope is built by the collaboration and support of this community and agency partners,” Zeck said. “It has changed the trajectory of our neighbors experiencing homelessness, while providing a model for a homeless service campus.”

The impact of the first phase of the Woodland project was evident when Yolo County reported its most recent point-in-time count of those experiencing homelessness. On Feb. 23, 2022, the county identified 746 unsheltered people, an increase of 13.9% since its last survey, done in 2019.

Yolo County Public Guardian Ian Evans , noted the modest increase in overall homelessness compared to surrounding jurisdictions. For example, Sacramento County went up 67% and Napa County rose 53%. In addition, Yolo County numbers should decline when residents begin moving into a new vertical tiny home village in Davis — Paul’s Place — later this month.

Evans said the change “speaks to the collaborative efforts that occur in our community. … This is a community issue, and we must continue to work as a community to address it.”

Spencer Bowen, communication and strategic policies manager for the City of Woodland, added, “While we still have a lot of vulnerable people to support, a growing proportion of folks are sheltered. Having a roof over your head, like at the new tiny homes at East Beamer, is often the first and most important step towards achieving better health, economic, housing and wellness outcomes for unhoused individuals.”

Friends of the Mission, a nonprofit based in Woodland that develops affordable housing and shelters for those in need, was central in the East Beamer site’s development. Woodland’s Cutting Edge Modular Inc. constructed the tiny homes. Public support also came from Yolo County, the state’s California’s Homekey program, and the Department of Health Care Services’ Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program. Other funds came from Partnership HealthPlan of California, Dignity Health and the Sutter Foundation.

Woodland Mayor Vicky Fernandez said she’s proud to be part of the solution to this crisis. “We have invested in the East Beamer Neighborhood Campus because we believe in the opportunity it will provide those in need. I hope that we are ‘the light in all the darkness’ for those struggling with life’s challenges, and that we are providing a safe and healthy place for them to call home.”

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and Solutions Journalism Network. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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