When it comes to homelessness, sometimes it’s the littlest population that can suffer the most.
“People don’t often think about children as being homeless,” said Christian Curby, executive director of the Turlock Gospel Mission. But the Turlock nonprofit serves an increasing number of children.
“We annually serve around 300 kids,” said Curby, adding that at any time there are eight to 10 children in the shelter.
The mission, which has served the “homeless and hurting” population in Turlock for a decade, opened a new shelter on South Broadway across from its day center last year. Prior to that, the mission had worked with local churches to house women and children for a week at a time at each location.
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The new mission shelter is designed to one day house men, women and children, but for now is limited to women and children while men are offered a place to stay at the We Care shelter down the street.
Having a permanent location offers the Mission the opportunity to expand the services it offers, as well as providing some stability for the women and children who now stay in one place.
“There is more safety and consistency,” Curby said.
Programs available include homework help in the afternoon, and access to computers that can be used for, say, a job search. Smaller rooms provide space for appointments with visiting medical professionals or social workers. And the commercial kitchen does more than just produce breakfasts and lunches for the women and children at the shelter: staffers also prepare meals for sites in other areas of Stanislaus County, including some senior living complexes. It also provides valuable vocational training to some of the women who stay at the shelter.
Community groups and churches still provide many of the meals served at the Gospel Mission’s day center, which serves men as well as women and children.
That kind of community involvement has value outside the cost of the food and the labor to produce the meal, Curby said. The interaction helps build empathy for the needy.
“It’s easy to dismiss the needs of a group,” Curby said. “But then you come and see the people we are serving as just like us.”
But while there are meals and clothes and a warm, dry bed at night, there is one thing lacking at the new shelter: a place to play.
Some books, art supplies and two small kitchen sets provide about the only opportunities for creative play, Curby said.
“The nearest park is across train tracks and doesn’t have any amenities,” he said. He was referring to Central Park, which is located at the busy intersection of Golden State Boulevard and Main Street in downtown Turlock and lacks any kind of play equipment.
“We’d love to give these kids a playground.”
Costs for a playground start at about $15,000, said Jacquelyne Reece, Turlock Gospel Mission development director.
The Mission has the property for a playground, and some green space around it. It owns the parcel next to its South Broadway location, where an expansion is planned one day. And there’s a pad at the side of the shelter building that could house a play area, but for now it’s just plain cement.
“The fastest-growing homeless population is children, and they’re the least culpable,” Curby said. “It would be nice to give them a place to just play and be creative.”
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Nov. 11: Cambridge Academies (Host House, Patterson)
Dec. 2: Turlock Gospel Mission
Dec. 9: Salvation Army
Dec. 16: Modesto Gospel Mission
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