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County starts over in its effort to open shelter

Stanislaus County CEO Jody Hayes addresses councilmembers during the Modesto City Council meeting at 10th Street Place in Modesto, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. The county and other partners are proposing to create a temporary low-barrier homeless shelter in Modesto.
Stanislaus County CEO Jody Hayes addresses councilmembers during the Modesto City Council meeting at 10th Street Place in Modesto, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. The county and other partners are proposing to create a temporary low-barrier homeless shelter in Modesto. aalfaro@modbee.com

Officials have abandoned their efforts to open a homeless shelter and day center near downtown Modesto on Stanislaus Food Products land, but say they are optimistic they can open another shelter by winter.

Stanislaus Food's concerns about legal liability and how the shelter and center could affect its operations could not be resolved. But officials thanked the tomato cannery for its willingness to consider the project and for working with them.

"We couldn't come to a place where (the cannery) was comfortable," said Brad Hawn, chairman of the county's Focus on Prevention stewardship council.

"It's a business decision they needed to make," Hawn continued. "I don't fault them. I understand this is a high-risk operation that could affect their business."

Stanislaus Food Products Senior Vice President Bill Hudelson did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.

Officials went public in February with the plans for the 60-bed low-barrier shelter and day center behind The Salvation Army's Berberian Center at Ninth and D streets on the Stanislaus Food campus.

They said then that while there were many details that needed to be worked out, they expected the shelter and center could open as soon as June.

The proposal got the support of the county Board of Supervisors and eventually from the Modesto City Council, though Mayor Ted Brandvold said that while he supported the project, he did not support the location. He suggested two alternatives on county property outside of Modesto.

Low-barrier shelters take couples, pets and possessions, and this one would complement the traditional shelters operated by the Modesto Gospel Mission and Salvation Army. The idea was that once the homeless were in the shelter, they would get the help they needed to take the next step in their lives.

This is Focus on Prevention's and the county's second attempt at opening a low-barrier shelter. They worked with Modesto on the first effort that was abandoned about two years ago over concerns about the cost.

When asked whether this was disappointing, county CEO Jody Hayes essentially said no. "I wouldn't use that word ... until later this year if we don't get a solution (open a shelter)," he said. "Then yes, I'll be disappointed ... (But) I'm optimistic.

"I think we still are on track to get something this year. I cannot tell you where that will be, but that work will not go away. It cannot. It's too important."

Supervisor Terry Withrow echoed those comments.

"I think what will come out of this is something better," he said. "It's caused us to look at another area, and I think we will come up with a better product at the end. This stuff is not easy. There are a lot of moving parts."

The county started Focus on Prevention three years ago as a community-based effort. Hayes said it's important to recognize that Focus on Prevention has undertaken other tasks, including opening an outreach and engagement center, and there is an effort under way to start a job program for the homeless.

The low-barrier shelter and day center are temporary projects. Officials are pursuing them to provide immediate relief to the homelessness crisis while they work on the permanent solution.

That solution is an access center, which would have 60 beds and a full range of services for the homeless. Hayes said work on that project continues, and the center could open as soon as two years.

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