Council approves moving forward with purchase, funding, operating agreement for homeless services campus in northern part of city

The Palm Springs City Council approved a multi-part agreement Thursday allowing for the purchase of a property and completion of a homeless services center in the city unlike any built here before.

The Palm Springs City Council approved a multi-part agreement Thursday allowing for the purchase of a property and completion of a homeless services center in the city unlike any built here before. Approval was not unanimous across the board, however, as Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner continued to voice objection to the facility’s location.

Approval of the agreement came after two dozen neighbors of the property in question, most of them constituents of Garner, gathered at City Hall earlier in the day. They protested the location, saying it was not fair to move forward with it in the northern end of the city — an area already struggling with issues of crime and addiction.

“We’re not against the homeless or the navigation center,” said Cynthia Session, president of the Desert Highlands Gateway Estates Community Action Association, as she spoke to those who had gathered Thursday afternoon. “The city has other options. Hopefully, they can reconsider this and look at those other options before they make a decision.”

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The city intends to use this property, located at 3589 McCarthy Rd., as a facility for homeless services.

Councilmembers spent hours Thursday evening listening to public testimony and discussing issues around the facility with city staff and representatives from Riverside County and the nonprofit organization that will operate it — Martha’s Village & Kitchen. In the end, all but Garner voted unanimously on multiple items contained within a memorandum of understanding that would allow forward movement on the project.

Garner, who was the lone no vote when the Council voted to pursue the purchase of the property in November, said afterward she supports both the project’s purpose and the inclusion of Martha’s. But she stood by her disapproval of locating the facility in her district.

The property, located at 3589 McCarthy Rd., sits on 3.6 acres of industrial land and contains three buildings with 47,000-square-feet of usable space. It is being sold to the city for $5.9 million. A local businessman had earlier agreed to purchase the property but then offered to allow the city to assume the purchase contract, absorbing any fees associated with the move.

When opened, the “navigation center” will have transitional housing, as well as job training, medical care, and other services. Clients would be committed to remaining at the facility as they move to permanent housing and employment. Construction should begin in January 2023. It could welcome its first clients in spring 2023.

“This is going to help literally hundreds a year get off the streets and get back to a life with dignity and respect,” said Councilmember Geoff Kors.

A design concept of the layout of a navigation center planned on property along McCarthy Road in northern Palm Springs.

Before the vote, Council members questioned city staff, police, and representatives of both the county and Martha’s to address issues raised by the community. One by one, those concerns were addressed — with some being labeled as misconceptions — to assure the community that the facility, unlike others in the past, would not come with unmitigated negative impacts.

Among the issues discussed:

  • City Manager Justin Clifton refuted claims that the city was “dumping” homeless people into a neighborhood already struggling with the issues of crime and substance abuse, telling councilmembers that there are services for the homeless population located in many parts of the city.
  • Police Chief Andy Mills told the Council he does not anticipate an increase in crime in the area. Instead, he said, police would have an additional tool they could use to combat crime elsewhere in the city because the facility’s existence would allow them to remove people from the streets and get them into a facility that could help them. He also committed to assigning a lieutenant to work with the safety team at the facility.
  • City and county staff assured the Council that the facility would not be an overnight shelter with rows of beds and a transient population “coming and going all day” and possibly loitering in the neighborhood. Instead, they said, it would be a “self-contained campus,” much like treatment centers that already exist in the city.
  • The Council was also assured by Greg Rodriguez, government relations and public policy advisor for Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, that clients leaving the property “is exactly what we don’t want.”

Both residents and Downtown business leaders affected by an increase in the city’s homeless population offered their thoughts about the facility during public testimony Thursday evening. Roughly half voiced support and half were opposed.

Aside from issues with the facility’s location, opponents pointed to what they said were failed prior efforts here with other homeless services providers, most notable Roy’s Desert Resource Center north of Interstate 10, which closed in 2017.

Kors and others assured the public that given Martha’s prior success — including the operation of a drop-in center in the city that has so far not had a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood — there was a reason for optimism.

“The concerns that have been raised are understandable,” said Kors. “Prior to Martha’s operating here, people didn’t experience a provider without significant secondary impacts. I think Martha’s has shown that it can be done successfully.”

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