Modesto area effort to help the homeless shifts into high gear

11/18/2013 7:15 PM

11/18/2013 7:16 PM

The effort to help Modesto’s homeless and perhaps curb their excesses – such as aggressive panhandling – is gaining speed.

The DoubleTree Hotel is donating its 1999 Ford passenger van to Turlock Gospel Mission, which is working with Modesto Councilman John Gunderson and newly elected Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer to put a homeless intervention services van on the road.

The van would be staffed with two caseworkers and operate 10 hours a day, seven days a week. The caseworkers would drive throughout Modesto, and the van would be stocked with food, clothing, blankets and first-aid items. One caseworker would be a man and the other a woman.

The caseworkers would seek to establish trust with the homeless and connect them to services – such as permanent housing or drug and alcohol rehab – provided by other agencies, such as The Salvation Army or the Department of Veterans Affairs. The van also would take the homeless to medical, mental health and other appointments.

“This is a proactive rather than a reactive approach,” Gunderson said.

Turlock Gospel Mission is leading the project because community members asked the mission to start a homeless day center in Modesto, modeled on the one the mission opened in Turlock. But mission officials decided to start with the outreach van before launching a day center.

The DoubleTree is donating the van in mid-December after it gets a new one to shuttle guests to and from Modesto Airport. General Manager Kole Siefken said he knew about the project and wanted to contribute so he checked with the hotel’s owners, who approved the donation.

“The homeless, they affect our business as well,” he said. “I’m trying to do something to help and not just be a complainer.”

Turlock Gospel Mission Executive Director Tim Guerino said the mission needs to raise about $140,000 to retrofit the van and for one year’s expenses. Those costs includes pay for four caseworkers, gas, van maintenance and supplies. Guerino, Gunderson and Kenoyer recently started soliciting funds and have raised about $5,000.

He said the van could be on the streets as early as spring.

Guerino said the project is not new. He said the Rescue Mission in Syracuse, N.Y., started an outreach van when he worked there and it remains in service. He said he’s heard of other rescue missions on the East Coast operating these vans.

Guerino and Gunderson said they have met with Modesto police officials about the project and said officials are interested. Police Chief Galen Carroll said problems involving the homeless are among the top targets of public complaints, and he welcomed any help the police could get.

But Carroll said he needs to know more about how the caseworkers would handle drunken or panhandling homeless people before committing his department to the project.

Guerino acknowledged that not all of the homeless will want help. But he said eventually there will come a time in their lives when they are in crisis and want help. He said the relationships caseworkers build will help them provide a lifeline to services.

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