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Same homeless people keep getting arrested. What city, county want to do to fix it.

Homeless Counted In Modesto, 2018

Randy Limburg with Telecare talks about Thursday’s homeless count in Modesto. He is pictured with others at Beard Brook Park January 25th, 2018. Video By: Joan Barnett Lee / jlee@modbee.com
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Randy Limburg with Telecare talks about Thursday’s homeless count in Modesto. He is pictured with others at Beard Brook Park January 25th, 2018. Video By: Joan Barnett Lee / jlee@modbee.com

A proposed initiative would combine the resources of Stanislaus County and Modesto in providing assistance to severely distressed homeless people.

More than 50 leaders from the public and private sector came up with the Community Assessment Response and Engagement, or CARE, team to focus on homeless people with persistent mental illness and substance abuse disorders that cause distress to themselves and the community.

County leaders want to respond to the worst cases that stand out, such as the shirtless guy in the crosswalk yelling at passing cars or the homeless person laying in his own feces on the sidewalk.

County supervisors could approve the pilot program Tuesday morning. The Modesto City Council will hear a presentation on the CARE initiative Tuesday evening.

According to the CARE Program Report prepared for the Board of Supervisors, a survey of police officers and arrest data were used to identify 143 people — 100 men and 43 women — who could benefit from the program.

The data showed that one person with behavioral issues had been arrested dozens of times over a five-year period. “That is not a successful outcome," county Chief Executive Officer Jody Hayes said. "We have to have something else to address that individual."

Modesto will commit its Homeless Engagement and Response Team (HEART) to the county-run CARE program. Along with the firefighter-paramedic, police officer and sergeant in HEART, the CARE team will be composed of a public health nurse, social services case manager, mental health staff, a probation officer and supervisor, deputy district attorney and public defender.

The proposed program will mostly deploy existing resources costing about $2 million a year. About $500,000 is available in the county's Focus on Prevention budget for contingencies.

While annual counts place the county's homeless population at 1,400 to 1,600, a smaller number stand out with their high-risk behavior, arrest history or health issues. Since the planning for the initiative began in December, the county report says, seven of those identified for assistance have died.

Supervisor Terry Withrow hopes the effort can break a vicious circle of placing individuals on "5150" holds, admitting them to Doctors Medical Center and Doctors Behavioral Health Center and then releasing them back on the streets without followup care.

"We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on these frequent fliers each year," Withrow said. The CARE initiative "will be great for these individuals by getting them the care they need. It will be good for us to save money and get them off the streets."

The plan calls for daily outreach by the engagement team in downtown Modesto, along McHenry Avenue and in nearby parks. Team members will try to build relationships with the homeless people and craft intervention plans to connect them with mental health or substance abuse treatment, housing and other services.

Withrow said some beds in a proposed low-barrier homeless shelter will be dedicated for the program.

Hayes acknowledged the housing shortages in the community, but the identified homeless people would qualify for county services for individuals with specialized housing needs.

Rick Armendariz, assistant police chief for Modesto, said the city needs to partner with the county because of the variety of services it can bring to bear to assist the homeless.

A case manager was added to the proposed CARE team to monitor the individuals and help them navigate the social services system. About 60 percent of the individuals are receiving public assistance such as CalWORKS, food stamps or Medi-Cal.

Almost 60 adults in the identified population are on informal probation, meaning they're not supervised by a county probation officer. The probation officer assigned to the CARE program will supervise 11 adults on formal probation and the informal probationers. About 70 percent of the individuals have a prior felony conviction.

The deputy district attorney and public defender on the team will process outstanding legal cases with an aim to offer rehabilitation options.

"The priority is to connect individuals with services to help them recover," the county report says. "However, the criminal justice interventions will include strategies to hold individuals accountable for their criminal behavior and not allow repeated misdemeanor-level criminal activity to go without interventions."

Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors also could approve support for including Stanislaus County in Senate Bill 1045, which would create a form of conservatorship for addressing homelessness in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The exact design of the CARE initiative has not been tried in other counties, but local leaders made contacts with other jurisdictions with programs that are "similar in scope," including Phoenix, Sacramento, Long Beach and San Diego.

“We have this (homeless) population that continues to grow,” Armendariz said. “We have business owners and community members that expect things to change.”

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