Thousand Oaks council approves city site for emergency homeless shelter

Thousand Oaks officials plan to erect the city's first emergency homeless shelter on Lawrence Drive in an industrial zone.
Thousand Oaks officials plan to erect the city's first emergency homeless shelter on Lawrence Drive in an industrial zone.

The Thousand Oaks City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved using a city-owned site for the town's first emergency homeless shelter.

Before the project can be considered fully approved, it must go through several more steps, City Manager Drew Powers said Wednesday.

A developer-operator must be selected and enter into an agreement with the city for the project, he said.

The developer-operator must then receive a special use permit from the city's Planning Commission to operate a shelter in an industrial zone. At the point, the project will be fully approved, Powers said.

The interim housing shelter will help some of the city's approximately 250 homeless people get off the street and hopefully transition to permanent housing.

"We don't have a homeless problem," Mayor Bob Engler said at the council's meeting. "We have a problem with individuals who are homeless."

The shelter will consist of 30 prefabricated small modular homes on an undeveloped lot at 1205 Lawrence Drive. The city owns the lot, which is located in an industrial zone near Rancho Conejo Boulevard and Ventu Park Road.

The council authorized staff to issue a request for proposals from developers-operators.

The panel also authorized Engler to sign a letter asking Ventura County for financial assistance for the project.

Off the street: Thousand Oaks unveils proposal to build city's first emergency homeless shelter

Several speakers who live in the large Rancho Conejo gated community about a half-mile away from the site vehemently opposed the shelter being built at that location.

Kimberly Mirel said the city did not inform the residents and businesses about the project, noting she only learned about it a few days ago from an article in the Star.

"I am absolutely devastated right the lack of transparency that we've seen with this project," she said.

Mirel expressed several concerns about the project, alleging homeless shelters in residential neighborhoods result in devalued properties and increased crime.

Another resident, Juliette Ormberget, echoed Mirel's concerns.

"If Rancho knew about this, I guarantee you that this place would be full" with residents opposed to the project, she said.

"The location is the problem," she said. The shelter is going to "affect our children, our families. It's going to affect our home values."

Assistant City Manager Ingrid Hardy said the city informed businesses near the Lawrence Drive site of its intentions to build a shelter there.

"The notification to the residents was we had news coverage," she said.

Green light: Thousand Oaks awarded $27 million for city's first permanent housing for homeless

Some speakers supported the project.

"Mayor and council members, all you have to do tonight is say yes," said Frank Schillo. "And we'll see progress toward eliminating homelessness in Thousand Oaks."

Councilwoman Claudia Bill-de la Peña said she understood the residents' concerns.

She and Engler comprise the city's ad hoc homelessness committee and recommended the shelter be built at the site.

"We know that there are residents who are upset," she said. "But our constituents have asked us for years to do something about it."

An audience member shouted, "We're only upset because you haven't told us about it."

Bill-de la Peña responded that "there is never a perfect solution. But this is as close as we can get."

Engler said many residents misunderstand the shelter's concept.

"A lot of people in their mind see a rescue mission, a skid row type facility," he said. "This is not what we're proposing to do. We're proposing an interim housing transition center."

Bill-de la Peña said the city has "befriended homeless persons that really, really, once they get help, will be able to get back on their feet."

The shelter would temporarily house at least 25 homeless people — one for each modular home — but more if married couples live in the same units, Hardy said.

Five of the units would be reserved as a law enforcement tool, Hardy said.

Under a 2018 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling, Martin v. Boise, a person sleeping on public property can only be arrested if they refuse to go to a shelter with space for them. If there is no such shelter space, they cannot be arrested.

The shelter, technically called a "navigation center," would include laundry and shower facilities and an administration office, among other features. It would offer case management, job training, health and mental health services.

The location is less than a mile away from a grocery and a pharmacy, according to a committee report, and less than half a mile from a bus stop.

To be accepted into the shelter, homeless persons would need referrals from local service organizations such as Harbor House and Lutheran Social Services, county agencies or law enforcement, Hardy said. They would stay there between 90-120 days.

Construction costs would be between $2 million and $3.5 million. Annual operational costs are estimated to be $1 million.

Construction funds could come from a variety of sources, including a portion of $16.2 million the city has set aside to address homelessness in town, Hardy said.

Operational funds also could come from a number of funding sources, including competitive grant funding opportunities through the county Continuum of Care program, according to the report.

The site could be developed within 12-18 months, the report says.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday for another project to help the city's homeless population.

The Quality Inn and Suites at 12 Conejo Blvd. will be converted into permanent housing for about 77 homeless people.

Mike Harris covers the East County cities of Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, as well as transportation countywide. You can contact him at or 805-437-0323.

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This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Thousand Oaks council greenlights site for emergency homeless shelter