Council narrows locations considered for homeless services center to two sites

City leaders elected Thursday to focus on two possible locations for a campus for transitional housing and services for those experiencing homelessness in Palm Springs, including one preferred by staff that just recently became available.

In a report discussed by the Council Thursday evening, city staff recommend 3589 McCarthy Rd. as their first choice for a “navigation center.” The property sits on 3.6 acres of industrial land and contains three buildings with 47,000-square-feet of usable space. It is currently in escrow for $5.9 million, but the potential buyer has offered to allow the city to assume the purchase.

The other property, located at 4775 E. Ramon Road, is on two acres and has 40,000 square feet of usable space. It was believed to have been in the process of being sold, but staff informed the Council during the Thursday meeting that it had recently fallen out of escrow.

City staff was directed to focus on comparing the purchase and remodeling costs of both properties, as well as the overall ability to offer the most services for the city’s growing homeless population. A decision on either property could come at a Council meeting next week.

Staff members have been reviewing potential navigation center locations for months. Some of the properties they examined were vacant land and would have required two years to build out, compared to an estimated one year for renovating the McCarthy Road and Ramon Road properties. Others did not offer as much existing usable space as the McCarthy Road location.

Other properties outlined in the report, including vacant land, were considered but ultimately rejected by Council members in an effort to speed up the process of building the much-needed facility.

“Finding a site that can be up and running faster is important,” said Councilmember Geoff Kors during discussion of the staff report. “We are in a true crisis moment. Our community feels the crisis, we feel the crisis, and people who have no place to go feel the crisis.”

Navigation centers have proven effective in other communities struggling to solve the problem of homelessness. Typically they have limited barriers to entry and offer temporary room and board with direct access to case managers who work to connect homeless individuals and families to income, public benefits, health services, permanent housing, and other shelters.

A design concept of the layout of a navigation center that could be built on property along McCarthy Road in north Palm Springs was presented to the City Council Thursday evening.

A preliminary sketch of the McCarthy Road facility, viewed Thursday evening, shows space for clusters of tiny modular homes, as well as space for shelter beds, a kitchen, laundry and shower facilities, medical facilities, an employment center, child development areas, and more.

Staff estimated the total cost of building a navigation center at the site would be $12.1 million after renovations, $10 less per square foot than the average cost for all properties considered. Total cost for the Ramon Road property would be $12.7 million. Funding for either project would come from a variety of sources, including both the city and Riverside County. The report states the county could commit to using as much as $7 million of the nearly $480 million it receives from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the project.

Residents who addressed the Council prior to the discussion favored moving forward with a facility to aid the homeless. But some who live near the proposed McCarthy Road location asked the city to look elsewhere. Many had expressed similar sentiment during a District 1 listening session with Councilmember Grace Garner Monday evening.

“We understand there’s a big need for homeless services all over the country, and our city is not exempt,” said Deiter Crawford, vice president of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates Community Action Association. “The city claims to be inclusive, diverse, and equitable, but none of this is evident in the north end of town.”

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