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They wanted to count the homeless in Modesto, but police sweep beat them to it

Volunteers fanned out across Stanislaus County on Thursday to count the homeless, but there was a complication in Modesto: The city posted notices in Beard Brook Park on Saturday and again on Monday that it would remove the homeless camps Thursday, and that’s what it did.

Jeanette Fabela — one of the count leaders and the county’s housing and supportive services manager — said volunteers came across fewer homeless people at Beard Brook and two other parks the city recently cleared of homeless camps.

She is concerned that could lead to fewer homeless people being counted, which she said could reduce the federal funding that agencies which work with the homeless receive. The most recent award was for $3.23 million.

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These are called point-in-time counts and are conducted annually in late January across the country as part of applying for the funding. Fabela said some of the homeless at Beard Brook were upset and did not want to provide answers to questionnaires, which provides those who help them with critical information.

Modesto has stepped up how many park cleanups it conducts since it formed its Homeless Engagement and Response Team (HEART) in July, doing them at least weekly. The team consists of a police officer and firefighter who work with the homeless to get help.

Modesto had been doing two park cleanups a week but cut back to once a week because of staffing and logistical reasons, said Lt. Rigo DeAlba, one of the supervisors of the Police Department’s beat health unit, which includes HEART.

Fabela said the Police Department and the Homeless Engagement and Response Team have been great partners in the effort to help the homeless. But she wished there had been better communication about the Beard Brook cleanup. She said she learned about it this week.

While the city did the Beard Brook cleanup Thursday, it moved the time to after the homeless count.

“I think this was a miscommunication and a lack of coordination among the agencies,” she said.

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A Modesto police community service officer stands by as City of Modesto park crews cleanup a campsite where homeless people were living Thursday morning January 25, 2018 in Beard Brook Park in Modesto, Calif. Joan Barnett Lee jlee@modbee.com

City spokeswoman Heather Graves said when officers posted notices the second time Monday they had homeless outreach workers with them to work with the homeless in the park. She said that effort resulted in three homeless people getting housing and one went to live with family. Graves said the city also removed homeless camps at Dryden Park Golf Course on Thursday.

But one 50-year-old homeless woman who said she has lived in and near Beard Brook for two years, said she and her fiancé now have nowhere to go. “This is the second time we’ve been thrown out of here,” Jenell Vierra said. She said she won’t go to a shelter because she has two dogs.

There could be tension between the effort to help the homeless and the city’s stepped up effort to clear city parks of homeless camps and the trash and debris they can generate. But Modesto is being swamped by complaints about the homeless.

Reports of quality of life crimes — which mostly involve homeless people — have spiked, from 1,696 in 2012 to 4,514 last year, according to the Police Department. These crimes include vagrancy, littering, being drunk in public, urinating or defecating in public, and camping in city parks.

Police Chief Galen Carroll said in an interview for another story that these crimes increased after 2011’s prison realignment in which the state started diverting a significant number of people from state prisons to county jails and state laws that reduced some drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

But Carroll also has said moving the homeless from a park is like squeezing a balloon. Last year’s count turned up 1,661 homeless people, including 1,221 in Modesto. And there are not enough shelter beds and other housing for the homeless, though there are efforts underway to change that.

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