Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen did not support an initial access center for the homeless in downtown Modesto. She expressed concerns it could create a hangout rather than getting people off the streets.
Olsen said Tuesday morning she would not support the center, at 825 12th Street, unless it was tabled for a week for more consideration.
The Board of Supervisors approved the access center on a 4-0 vote, with Olsen not voting. The center could open in a couple of months in a modular building next to the downtown jail.
Olsen, a former state assemblywoman, said Modesto has made real progress revitalizing its downtown. A response to homelessness in Sacramento turned into a “disaster” for that city’s K Street district, she said.
County Chief Executive Officer Stan Risen said the Modesto access center is a temporary solution until a permanent center is established. When Olsen asked what was meant by temporary, Risen said no longer than one or two years.
Olsen was concerned that, without effective operation and monitoring, problems could develop around the center, reinforcing a myth the downtown area is not safe for customers and restaurant patrons.
Other county leaders said the center will be a one-stop shop for connecting the homeless to housing, mental health services and other help with rebuilding their lives. “The objective is to get in front of the homeless problem,” Supervisor Jim DeMartini said.
Lynn Dickerson, chief executive officer for the Gallo Center for the Arts, said the access center won’t be without controversy because of fears it will create a gathering spot. Dickerson, who spoke in favor of the center, serves on the Stewardship Council over the county’s Focus on Prevention initiative, which is trying to reduce homelessness.
County supervisors also voted 5-0 in approving a multiyear financing plan for Focus on Prevention, a 10-year initiative to deal with social problems in the county.
The access center for the homeless will be staffed by employees from county Behavioral Heath and Recovery Services and the Community Services Agency. Homeless people going to the center can find out if they’re eligible for housing, social services and other assistance.
The county is shooting to open the center in the summer. Efforts to establish a permanent access center will continue, officials said.
One or two employees from a new Homeless Court could work out of the downtown center. The Stanislaus Superior Court received a $593,000 grant for a three-year program to assist homeless people who need to clear up legal issues.
Court Executive Officer Hugh Swift said the money will pay for two county outreach workers. A homeless court will be held once a month for dealing with misdemeanors, infractions and probation terms on people’s records that can be a barrier to services. The Homeless Court won’t deal with felonies or Drug Court issues, Smith said.
Swift said the court proposal is getting cooperation from the District Attorney’s office and city attorneys from Modesto and other cities.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16