The city of Tracy hopes to open up a warming center for the city’s homeless population, and last week the Tracy City Council authorized city staff to set up the Tracy Community Center for that purpose.

The city had put out a request for proposals back in February, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was among the factors that put that project on hold. Since then the city has worked toward creating a homeless shelter on city-owned land between Arbor Avenue and Larch Road, a project that now awaits grant funding from the county.

Meanwhile, the onset of cold weather has emphasized the need for any kind of shelter for people who are living outdoors. To that end, the city reissued the RFP for the warming center in October with the hope that a provider could step forward by this month and operate the warming center through March.

Assistant City Manager Midori Lichtwardt told the council at its Dec. 15 meeting that one potential service provider, who was not named, has stepped forward, but the city could not draft an agreement in time for the Dec. 15 agenda, and she expects that additional partners may be needed for the project.

She asked the council to authorize $250,000 for a warming center, and also to authorize city staff to implement the proposal as soon as it can reach an agreement with the service provider without having to come back for further council review. The only other option would be for the city to wait until the council’s next regularly scheduled meeting, Jan. 19, to act on the matter.

Lichtwardt described two options for a warming center, including setting up the Tracy Community Center on East Street to accommodate overnight stays for up to 40 or 50 people during cold winter nights. The city could also set up military style tents in the parking lot at El Pescadero Park at the northern end of Parker Avenue, on the north side of Grant Line Road. That park already has a large portion of the city’s homeless population camping out in tents.

Lichtward also explained that the warming center would be different from the shelter proposed between Arbor Avenue and Larch Road, in that it would be available for 12 hours a day, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., 7 days a week, through March. It would not have beds, nor would people be able to bring in belongings aside from what they can carry.

Mayor Nancy Young asked for an estimate of when the center could open. Lichtwardt said that the Community Center could be open within a week of a contract approval. The timeline for a tent at El Pescadero Park was less certain, depending on when the provider could procure all of the equipment and supplies needed.

“This is a new project for us. We haven’t done this before,” Lichwardt told the council. “It’s unclear how quickly we can get it done, but we’re committed to get this contract negotiated and get occupancy into either a tent or in the Community Center as soon as possible.”

Bubba Paris, executive director of the Tracy Community Connections Center, a local homeless services group, told the council that in his meetings with other providers of homeless services in the county, Tracy is the only city that doesn’t provide some kind of relief from winter weather.

“As long as we can take people off the street and give them a chance to be warm, I think it will show the humanity of the city,” Paris said.

The council agreed that it wants city staff to move forward with the warming center. Councilwoman Eleassia Davis was skeptical about the sites chosen, suggesting that the Arbor Avenue site where a long-term shelter is planned would be suitable for the temporary warming center, adding that neighbors of El Pescadero Park also were likely to object to the city setting up a warming center at that location, and she wanted details on how the Community Center could be made COVID-safe as a warming center.

• Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com, or call 209-830-4227.

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