TURLOCK — The City Council on Tuesday voted against extending the cold weather emergency homeless shelter 30 days, citing building codes, a lack of bad weather and ideology.
The shelter opened Nov. 20 and serves to keep homeless people under a roof during the valley's coldest and wettest months. The council had considered opening the shelter early, on Nov. 1, but decided against that because, according to Councilman Kurt Spycher, it wasn't cold enough.
Spycher echoed that comment Tuesday. He said the council left the door open for an April extension for "extreme cold weather and I don't think we've met that definition."
Dozens of homeless people and shelter staff said the April concern isn't cold, it's rain, which the council didn't address. No member of the public, in a packed council chamber, spoke against the extension.
Spycher and Vice Mayor Kurt Vander Weide said they received many calls from people opposed to the extension, but they could not show up because they only learned of the planned discussion in their morning newspaper.
"The question that divides us is 'how.' Can government address (the homeless) question? I'm of the opinion it cannot," Vander Weide said before launching into praise for a stalled faith-based shelter startup.
Councilman Ted Howze raised questions of city liability and building codes, suggesting that the shelter isn't fit for housing people. At a previous meeting, he said he wouldn't house sheep at the shelter.
City Attorney Dick Burton said state law allows the council to declare a shelter emergency, defining that emergency any way it likes, and be free of any lawsuit or building codes.
Howze said emergency should be defined as a "Katrina-level event."
Councilwoman Beverly Hatcher and Mayor John Lazar voted for keeping the shelter open, citing basic humanity, their faith and common kindness. Spycher, Vander Weide and Howze voted against it.
The shelter closes March 31.
We Care, a nonprofit organization started by the Turlock Community Collaborative, has run the shelter, the only one in town, four to six months a year on emergency status for more than five years. The city purchased the building at 400 B St. and leases it to the group. California State University, Stanislaus, donated the beds. Local churches and volunteer groups provide meals every night.
"I love to see the mixing of people doing for one another what they can out of the kindness of their hearts," shelter director Bill Sturtevant said to a roaring round of applause.
Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2391.