City leaders listen to concerns over homeless center, remain committed to building project in northern Palm Springs

Residents of the northern portion of the city hoping to have their voices heard about a planned homeless services center in their neighborhood got just that at a meeting Tuesday evening that was remarkably different — at least in one respect — than a similar meeting held two weeks ago.

What changed was the format. Instead of city officials speaking at residents and dispatching them to tables staffed with consultants to ask questions, they positioned themselves at the front of the audience gathered at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center gymnasium, taking questions and providing what answers they could for 90 minutes.

What didn’t change was the decision to stand up the facility in the neighborhood. The city is committed to moving forward with a planned facility providing temporary housing, counseling, and other supportive services for the homeless at a 3.6-acre industrial site off McCarthy Road, officials said. It recently closed on the property for nearly $6 million.

Like the first meeting, which elected officials and City Manager Justin Clifton acknowledged did not go well, community members expressed frustration that the purchase was rushed through City Hall without first consulting them. The lack of communication was not a surprise, they said, given that their portion of Palm Springs has long been without essential services such as a grocery store and is instead home to a proliferation of undesirable projects such as cannabis grow operations and low-income housing units.

“We’ve met with you several times saying we didn’t want this in our community, but you didn’t listen,” said Evernell Black. “We also told you we don’t want the gas stations and the liquor mart in our community, but you didn’t listen.

“You don’t listen to us. Why should we think you’re going to listen to us tonight? You’ve already made your decision.”

“You’ve done this with a total lack of transparency,” added Bruce Juenger. “It’s negatively impacting a population that has already been negatively impacted. That’s just a disgrace.”

Ragda Zacharia was one of 15 residents who addressed city officials and others at a meeting Tuesday evening at the James O. Jesse Desert Highland Unity Center’s gymnasium.

What Juenger and others alluded to was that a two-square-mile area of northern Palm Springs is the city’s poorest area and has remained without a grocery store, medical facilities, a bank, and other services almost since its inception in the 1960s. Roughly 70% of the 6,100 people in the area identify as non-white. Stress brought on from living in poverty and the threat of violence was identified as the most significant health issue in the community.

“Palm Springs really did a bad thing to this neighborhood,” observed David Lester. “It really stinks. …We’re going to exacerbate the problem with this homeless center.”

City officials, including Clifton and Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner and representatives from Riverside County and Martha’s Village & Kitchen, which will partner with the city to build and run the facility, didn’t speak to the history between City Hall and the neighborhood. In fact, they didn’t speak much, choosing instead to listen as 15 of the roughly 55 community members in attendance took to a podium to address them.

However, they did provide assurances after neighbors voiced concerns that the facility would become a magnet for “professional homeless” uninterested in receiving help and more interested in taking advantage of residents. Many who live in two condominium complexes near the planned facility reported that homeless community members frequently bathe in their community spas, dig through dumpsters on their property, camp on their patios, and steal from their homes.

“These are the cheapest condos in Palm Springs,” said Lisa Hoff, pointing to current issues with housing inequity as the root cause of many of the city’s problems. “If you think that anyone coming out of homelessness can afford to live in Palm Springs, I don’t know what planet you’re living on.”

Clifton said city leaders would continue attempting to address housing inequity in the city. And for now, he vowed to work with the residents to assure their safety would be a priority, and the impact to their neighborhood would be minimized.


More information: The city encourages residents of the impacted neighborhood or anyone else concerned about the navigation center to visit a special web page designed to answer frequent questions. The web page also contains a link to a survey. Questions can be emailed to [email protected]

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