Stanislaus County officials will make their case Monday before La Loma neighborhood residents about their plan to open a temporary shelter at the county’s Scenic Drive government center, a shelter they say will help the homeless get off the streets.
Dry Creek and city parkland separate the proposed shelter and the neighborhood. Officials should expect lots of questions, concerns and even opposition, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be supporters at the meeting.
Some residents say La Loma already shoulders more than its share of Modesto’s homelessness crisis because of the nearby Salvation Army and Modesto Gospel Mission shelters.
While careful to say that not all homeless people cause problems, they say the increased numbers of homeless people in their neighborhood has led to more theft, blight and other problems.
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“They (residents) don’t like to keep anything of value on their porch because it gets stolen,” said Deborah Steinberg, president of the La Loma Neighborhood steering committee, which represents about 1,200 households. “And most people don’t keep anything of value in their backyards.”
She said homeless people squat in vacant homes and some even sleep in backyards. Steinberg also said there are problems with litter, needles, human waste and junk left by homeless people living in La Loma’s parks and along Dry Creek.
Steinberg said the problems persist despite La Loma residents volunteering many hours cleaning up the parks and the creek. She said the fear is adding a third shelter will make everything worse.
“We want these people to get help,” she said. “But we have a huge burden already. ... We are not against homeless services, but we don’t want to take on the entire burden.”
She said a shelter should not be near any residential neighborhood or rivers and creeks. The steering committee suggests the county place the shelter outside of Modesto on other property it owns, such as at its Hackett Road facilities. But county officials say the Scenic location is the easiest, quickest and least expensive option.
La Loma resident Maria Arevalo is torn about the shelter proposal, though she said she is leaning very reluctantly toward supporting it as long as it is run correctly and does not create more problems. (Her husband, John Frailing, is more supportive and also believes the city needs to do more to help the homeless, including providing bathrooms.)
Arevalo said she shares the concerns of her neighbors who don’t support the shelter. But she said something needs to be done to start addressing a very difficult problem.
“I don’t think criminalizing homelessness is the answer,” she said. “To me that doesn’t really solve the problem. My hope is that the shelter does address the needs of these people and move them forward. If that could be done without increasing the problems we already have then it is a great goal.”
County officials say the shelter won’t be open more than three years. They say it is a temporary solution that will provide some relief while they work on the permanent solution: opening an access center that would offer comprehensive services for the homeless.
But Steinberg said she fears the temporary shelter will become the home of the permanent access center.
Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. President Brad Hawn, who is working with the county on the shelter project, said La Loma’s concerns are not NIMBYism and will be addressed.
“Our goal is not to negatively impact the neighborhood,” said Hawn, who also is co-chair of Focus on Prevention’s Stewardship Council. The county launched Focus on Prevention a few years ago to tackle some of the area’s most challenging problems, including homelessness.
As part of addressing the neighborhood’s concerns, Hawn said there would be a committee — whose members would include city and county officials as well as La Loma residents — that would meet regularly to address problems.
The shelter is expected to have 60 beds and occupy the two wings of the former Scenic General Hospital at the rear of the Scenic Drive complex. One wing would have the beds, and the other would have services for the homeless at the shelter. It would be a low-barrier shelter so it would take partners, pets and possessions.
Unlike a traditional shelter, where people line up in the afternoon to check in for the night and then leave in the morning, this one would not accept walk-ins, and county officials said they don’t expect it will generate the foot traffic of a traditional shelter.
The recently launched city-county CARE team that works with the homeless causing the most distress to themselves and the community and the county’s outreach and engagement center would select who gets in. Officials say that would be homeless people willing to try to change their lives.
County officials say the shelter would serve people who now sleep in parks and other outdoor locations.
Those staying at the shelter would get services to help them move into housing, find employment and other needs. Clients could stay for as little as a few days or as long as six months. Stanislaus County CEO Jody Hayes has estimated that several hundred homeless people could cycle through the shelter in a year.
Nick Smith, 29, was among about a dozen homeless men and women in La Loma’s Kewin Park on Thursday afternoon. He said he thought the shelter was a good idea and could make a difference.
Smith said he’s been homeless for about four months since leaving where he had been staying in Manteca and now sleeps at the Gospel Mission. He said he just got a job washing dishes at a restaurant in downtown Modesto.
He said he spends his days in the park or the downtown library between the time he leaves the mission in the morning and before he starts work.
When asked what most people don’t understand about homelessness, he said: “Just how long a day it is when you don’t have a safe place or anything to do. It’s really easy to kill time with ways that are less than beneficial.”
Hayes points out that homeless people already are in La Loma and other neighborhoods, and this shelter offers a real opportunity to get them off the streets.
“The shelter will be outcome driven, with a simple definition for tracking our success; how many individuals come off our streets and make their way into alternative housing and supportive employment when possible,” Hayes wrote in a letter to Modesto officials detailing the county’s plans and other efforts to tackle the issue.
Steinberg encourages La Loma residents to attend Monday’s meeting so all of the neighborhood’s views are represented, including those who support the shelter.
The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at 830 Scenic Drive in the Martin Conference room in one of the wings in the old Scenic General Hospital in the rear of the complex. County officials stressed the meeting is for La Loma residents.
The rest of the public will have an opportunity to learn about the project and ask questions when the proposal comes before the Board of Supervisors for consideration. That is expected to happen Aug. 28.
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