Stanislaus County’s effort to get homeless people off the streets could take the form of an access center with temporary housing and services to help them rebuild their lives.
In March, a proposed low-barrier shelter and access center, using a modular building near the Salvation Army’s Berberian Shelter in Modesto, was dropped when the project did not pencil out.
Working with architects donating their time, local agencies are developing plans for a full-service access center; about 100 people attended a brainstorming session Wednesday in the county’s Harvest Hall.
Proponents imagine a center with 60 beds – 45 for homeless individuals and 15 for families. People housed for a few days to a few months would work on getting their lives on track and receive lots of help at the center.
Envisioned as a service hub for the 1,661 homeless in the county, the center would direct other homeless people to emergency shelters that have beds for the night. Supportive services at the new center would include case management, substance abuse services, medical and mental health care, assistance with legal problems, employment training and help with finding a job.
As a low-barrier facility, it would accommodate pets and not enforce strict sobriety rules.
HOK Architects is drawing designs for a 30,000-square-foot center with a kitchen, classrooms, showers, a multipurpose area, exam rooms, a day center, storage, offices and a place for recharging cell phones.
Thus far, there is no location for the access center, said Patty Hill Thomas, the county’s chief operating officer. Costs of building and operating the center are unknown.
More than likely, a partnership of local agencies and nonprofit groups would be involved with staffing and providing services. The project sprang from the Focus on Prevention initiative, which aims to tackle social problems by mobilizing different sectors of the community.
“The county won’t be able to do this by itself,” county Chief Executive Officer Stan Risen said.
Finding the money for building the center is not a big worry, Risen said. The challenge is finding the cash for operating the center for five to 10 years or more.
State Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, secured $2.5 million in the state budget for working on homeless issues in Stanislaus County. In March, local business leaders made a $1.4 million charitable investment in Focus on Prevention to support efforts to reduce homelessness. The money came from the Credit Bureau Fund.
To start making progress on the homeless front, a temporary engagement and outreach center will open next week at 825 12th St. in Modesto. Outreach teams working out of the modular building will engage homeless people in parks and other locations. Starting in September, the county Community Services Agency and Behavioral Health and Recovery Services will have a presence in the initial center, along with navigators working to connect the homeless with legal assistance and housing services.
Memorial Medical Center and Sutter Gould Medical Foundation donated $200,000 to support a housing assessment team at the temporary center.
Risen said that Wednesday’s session was for setting a vision for the permanent access center. The housing piece will be critical in helping the 821 unsheltered homeless in a county with housing shortages and steep rents.
In addition to the center’s 60 transitional beds, the county would still have a need for 761 beds, which possibly could be provided in new shelters, motels and residential facilities. As the access center helps individuals and families get back on their feet, they will need to move from transitional housing to permanent homes.
It was recognized at Wednesday’s meeting that a shortage of permanent subsidized housing would jam the system.
“Is there someplace permanent for these folks to go?” asked Capt. Dwaine Breazeale of the Salvation Army Modesto Citadel Corps. “I don’t see that happening yet.”
Some are encouraged that Focus on Prevention, which was launched two years ago, has progressed from talk around tables, pastries and post-it notes to putting feet on the ground.
The volunteer architects will incorporate ideas from Wednesday’s meeting in drawings for the permanent access center. The facility needs space for holding Homeless Court hearings, activities for children and counseling sessions with adults.
In time, plans for the center will make their way to a Stewardship Council and the Board of Supervisors.
Ruben Imperial, a county staff member, said much work lies ahead to design programs and decide what groups will provide the services.
“They need to do something like this to accommodate the needs of the homeless,” said Kevin McCarty, a retired teacher who’s been involved in the process. “There is a tremendous housing shortage in Modesto and the Valley. They are going to have to work on providing affordable housing for people in Modesto including the homeless.”
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16