Modesto homeless vigil excludes those at shelter

kvaline@modbee.comDecember 26, 2013 

Homeless people line up outside the Salvation Army’s Berberian Shelter at D and Ninth streets as the upgraded winter shelter opened in November.

ELIAS FUNEZ — efunez@modbee.com Buy Photo

— About 75 people gathered Saturday night outside The Salvation Army’s Berberian Homeless and Transition Shelter for the eighth annual vigil to honor the 17 homeless men and women who died in the Modesto area in the past 12 months.

Those attending the candlelight vigil in the shelter’s parking lot included homeless advocates and service providers, clergy and the homeless. But the homeless men and women in the Berberian’s 100-bed winter shelter were not allowed.

Salvation Army officials said it was not an easy decision for them to bar winter shelter clients. “Our choice would have been for everyone to attend,” said Maj. Kyle Trimmer, who oversees the Modesto Citadel Corps. “Next year, we hope to do that. It’s on our home turf, and we’d love to do that.”

Several factors played a role in the decision. The vigil was held outdoors for the first time in a few years after being held in the Berberian shelter’s chapel. Shelter clients have attended the vigil in the chapel, as have homeless people from the streets. Vigil organizers held the event outdoors Saturday as a way to represent how the homeless live.

Salvation Army officials did not like the idea of winter shelter clients mixing with homeless people from outside the shelter at the vigil. It would be hard for officials to monitor the homeless in the dark parking lot. Shelter clients are screened for drugs and alcohol as they check in each evening. Trimmer said Salvation Army officials were concerned clients could get alcohol and drugs from other homeless people.

Additionally, Trimmer said, the shelter was short staffed, and there was another event taking place during the vigil. He said a family comes to the shelter around Christmas each year to provide a meal and gifts. The family came Saturday this year.

Barring shelter clients from the vigil prompted one man who stays at the shelter to write a letter to The Bee, which was published Thursday. “ ... We were excluded from the vigil ... ,” Kenneth Mendenhall wrote. “Why? What stinks worse? The death of homeless men and women who have died on the streets of Modesto, or the hypocrisy of the chain of command who pretends to care?”

Besides the 100-bed winter shelter, the Berberian shelter operates two 20-bed transitional living programs for men and women, who live at the shelter for as long as 24 months as they get their lives back on track.

Trimmer, who did not attend the vigil, said the men and women in the transitional programs could not attend. But one of the organizers said transitional program clients were present.

Kimberlee Hamilton Anderson, a Stanislaus County behavior health advocate, said she understands why The Salvation Army excluded winter shelter clients. But vigil organizers did not forget them, she said. Organizers spoke with them as they lined up to be checked into the shelter. She said donations of sleeping bags, blankets and other items organizers had collected were left to be given to the winter shelter clients.

The vigil has been better attended since organizers moved it from a park to the Berberian shelter, Hamilton Anderson said. “It’s more fitting to have it at the shelter, even with people inside the shelter not able to attend,” she said. “They knew that we were there. And we engaged with them (as they were being checked in) and talked with them.”

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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