Stanislaus County picks its spot for temporary homeless shelter

One of the two buildings the county is proposing to use as a temporary homeless shelter is pictured Friday August 3, 2018 at the government complex on Scenic Drive in Modesto, Calif.
One of the two buildings the county is proposing to use as a temporary homeless shelter is pictured Friday August 3, 2018 at the government complex on Scenic Drive in Modesto, Calif.

Stanislaus County is proposing to open a temporary shelter in two buildings of its former hospital at its Scenic Drive government center to deal with the growing homelessness crisis.

The shelter could be open for about two years until the county is able to open a permanent access center at another location and which would provide comprehensive services for homeless people.

County leaders unveiled the plan for the temporary shelter at a Friday afternoon Bee editorial board meeting. They expect to bring the proposal before the Board of Supervisors at its Aug. 28 meeting as part of a comprehensive discussion about homelessness, the county’s efforts to address it and potential next steps.

Stanislaus County CEO Jody Hayes said he will ask supervisors for a 30-day waiting period if they approve the shelter proposal Aug. 28 to give community members the chance to offer alternatives and raise questions and concerns about the county’s plan. Supervisor Terry Withrow said those questions and concerns could be incorporated into the shelter’s final plan.

Supervisors also will be asked to declare a shelter crisis, which Hayes said would eliminate some of the state’s requirements to open the shelter. County officials believe the declaration is necessary for the county to receive $7.3 million in state funding to address the area’s homelessness crisis.

LM Homeless Shelter Map.jpg
Proposed Homeless Shelter location map. Laurie McAdam

Hayes said the declaration also would emphasis the severity of the problem. “It sends the right message,” he said, “that this is an emergency.”

The proposal could face opposition.

The Scenic Drive location is near the La Loma neighborhood. Dry Creek and city parkland separate the two. Some La Loma residents already believe the neighborhood shoulders more than its share of the homelessness crisis by having the Modesto Gospel Mission nearby on Yosemite Boulevard.

County officials have just started reaching out to Modesto and La Loma leaders. Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. President Brad Hawn, who joined Hayes and Withrow at the editorial board meeting, said his nonprofit will hold a meeting for La Loma residents this month about the proposal.

Hayes said he hopes Modesto will become a partner in this proposal but added the county does not need any official approvals from the city or its City Council to open the shelter.

Withrow said the homeless problem won’t go away by itself and will get worse unless more action is taken. The temporary shelter is proposed to have 60 beds and be what is called a low-barrier shelter. Unlike traditional shelters, these facilities take couples and their possessions and pets.

The shelter would have a day center for the homeless staying there and offer services so the homeless can take the next step in their lives, including getting into transitional and then permanent housing or getting treatment for an addiction.

The idea is for homeless people to cycle through the shelter. They would come in, get help, and then leave as they take that next step. Hayes estimated the shelter could serve several hundred people a year.

Hayes said homeless people could not just show up and get a shelter bed. He said those working with the homeless would decide who gets in.

He said priority would be given to the homeless people who are causing the most distress to themselves and the community. Those are the homeless people who are frequently being placed on mental health holds, repeatedly showing up at emergency rooms or having constant contact with the police.

Stanislaus County and Modesto have launched what they call the CARE program to work with those homeless people.

Withrow said the low-barrier shelter is crucial because it can be difficult to find a bed for a homeless person who is ready to change. Beds need to be available when people are willing to accept help because that willingness may not last long, and it could be weeks, months or years before it comes back.

“When we get a yes,” he said, “we need a place for them to go.”

The county has been working on opening a temporary shelter for a couple of years. An initial effort with the city fell through over concerns about the cost.

The county then worked with Stanislaus Food Products about opening a shelter on tomato cannery property. But that fell through in May because the cannery’s concerns about legal liability and how the shelter would affect its operations could not be resolved.

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