John Ledbetter, co-founder of the Lodi Committee on Homelessness, said the state’s recent placement of a historical Lodi site on a list of potential homeless shelter and housing locations is a good idea.
“It would give us a local option (to address homeless),” he said. “Maybe we can make it work. We just have to figure out a way to use that location to the best of its ability.”
The California Department of General Services recently conducted a survey to identify excess real estate parcels owned by the state where development of affordable housing could be feasible.
The department identified 19 properties in San Joaquin County that could potentially serve as affordable housing or emergency shelters, and one of those was the Lodi Armory, located at 333 N. Washington Street.
The armory was the only property identified by the state located in Lodi. In all, the department identified 286 properties across the state that could potentially serve as affordable housing or emergency shelters.
Ledbetter said the armory had been discussed by the committee at past meetings as a potential site for homeless housing, but the idea has been met with reservation, not only by other coalition members, but by residents.
“It takes a while for people to get used to some ideas,” he said. “When you discuss something like housing or a shelter, you still have to think about location, location, location. Because it is so close to homes, some people aren’t in favor of that location.”
Rather than pursue the armory as a location for the homeless, the committee identified two potential sites in Lodi for a Homeless Emergency Aid Program project that involves building five permanent supportive housing units for individuals or families.
The sites being considered are located at 301 E. Lodi Ave. and 2 W. Lodi Ave., and are currently undergoing environmental impact review.
Once one of the locations is ultimately chosen, each unit would be about 450 feet in size, and be home to those referred by local organizations such as the Housing Authority of the County of San Joaquin, the Salvation Army, Lodi House and the Women’s Center.
Ledbetter said if the state were to move forward and use the armory as a homeless shelter, it would not hinder the effort to complete the HEAP project.
According to the 2019 San Joaquin Continuum of Care Homeless Census and Survey, there were 2,629 homeless in the county, of which 59% were identified as unsheltered.
The Armory was built in the 1930s by the City of Lodi as a federal Works Progress Administration project during the Great Depression, and was acquired by the National Guard in 1950, according to www.militarymuseum.org, a website featuring historic California posts, camps, stations and airfields.
The 83-year-old building occupies an estimated two acres on the corner of Washington and East Lockeford streets.
During its history, the Armory has housed large public meetings, wedding receptions, family reunions and small conventions. High school football players and fans held after-game dances at the Armory every Friday for nearly a decade as well.
The city entered into a joint-use agreement with the National Guard in 2000, which allowed the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department to remodel the armory’s main building and convert it into a gymnasium.
Last October, that joint-use agreement and lease came to an end after city officials said student and recreational activities were being disrupted by homeless individuals disturbing parents who dropped off their children.
Staff said the homeless were also banging on the armory doors during the classes and camps in attempts to enter the building almost every day.
“(Having something there for the homeless) seems to make sense, because a fair number of homeless already occupy that area,” Ledbetter said. “The neighbors won’t be happy, but we or the state will have to work with them.”