The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 last week to support a temporary location for a low-barrier shelter, and to start the process of identifying a permanent location for the shelter and homeless access center.
The Modesto Bee’s reporting of the vote said I won’t support any locations for the permanent access center in downtown Modesto, which doesn’t fully reflect or explain my position.
A low-barrier shelter provides a place for individuals to stay, regardless of whether they are single, married, have pets or are part of a family. Such a shelter – which offers day and nighttime shelter, showers and services – is needed in our community. While the Modesto Gospel Mission and Salvation Army are doing amazing work to provide services and shelter, the number of homeless is simply too great for these organizations alone to meet the need.
Our community desperately needs a place for homeless people to go during the day – getting them off the streets and out of our parks. But few would go if they must leave their pets and possessions behind.
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It’s essential any low-barrier shelter have clear goals and measurable outcomes – namely, a reduction in homelessness.
Homelessness is up 15 percent in Stanislaus County over the past year. Communities across California report similar increases. Something must be done.
We don’t want to be part of a community that simply throws up its hands and says there’s nothing we can do about the growing number of mentally ill and vagrants who are wreaking havoc in our neighborhoods and around our businesses.
I am excited about the Focus on Prevention movement, which combines the efforts of public agencies, private citizens and non-profit groups. The solutions we come up with can grow into best practices for the entire state and nation.
Nevertheless, simply increasing services is not an answer and not effective prevention or treatment. If these services don’t result in lowering the numbers of homeless people and increasing the number of people improving their lives, then those services are meaningless.
My ongoing support for a low-barrier shelter, access center and other services will depend on creating better outcomes.
My ongoing support also depends on the location of the permanent shelter and access center. I will not support any location within the downtown core. That does not mean all of downtown. The 12 blocks of H, I, J and K streets, between 10th and 14th should be off limits. We’ve been working to build a vibrant downtown in this core area, making progress with the Gallo Center, new restaurants, street fairs and more. Putting a permanent shelter here risks deterring people from going downtown to enjoy the arts, entertainment, dining and shopping.
I will not support a permanent shelter anywhere on 10th Street – which is envisioned as Modesto’s gateway from the Convention Center to the Tuolumne River, with plans for walkable streets and a riverfront amphitheater (what is taking so darned long, by the way?).
Finally, I will not support a permanent shelter outside the city limits – unless it can be shown that it is easily accessible to those who need it. It makes no sense to put a shelter and access center on Hackett Road, miles from where 73 percent of the county’s homeless people are today. Unless someone can demonstrate otherwise, that would be just throwing money and opportunity down the drain.
I applaud those generous, caring, committed and hard-working members of our community whose vision for a low-barrier shelter with accessible services will give hope to those who have so little.
But let’s be mindful of the larger community’s needs; mindful of the importance of improving the economic vitality, safety and quality of life in downtown and throughout the county. Everyone benefits if the number of homeless, mentally ill and vagrants living on the streets decreases.
I am committed to this effort because doing something helps all of us – homeless and sheltered – as long as we do it well and measure the results. Doing nothing helps nobody.
Kristin Olsen represents District 1 on the Stanislaus County board of supervisors.