County invites those who don’t like homeless shelter site to find another one — quickly

Stanislaus County is proposing creating a low-barrier homeless shelter at the former Scenic General Hospital in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, August 9, 2018.
Stanislaus County is proposing creating a low-barrier homeless shelter at the former Scenic General Hospital in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, August 9, 2018.

First, a new shelter for the homeless at the former county hospital on Scenic Drive was panned at a neighborhood meeting two weeks ago. Tuesday, it became apparent the proposed Modesto shelter does not have full support from members of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.

Still, the two buildings at the Scenic campus remain the top choice for the 60-bed temporary shelter. County leaders would consider another location, if one is proposed, when the project comes back to the board two months from now.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Supervisor Dick Monteith said La Loma neighborhood residents for 30 years have dealt with problems associated with homeless adults who use the Gospel Mission on nearby Yosemite Boulevard. Putting a second shelter near the neighborhood could compound the problems that residents have tried for years to address, the supervisor said.

Monteith, who represents most of Modesto, asked the board to separate a vote on the low-barrier shelter from an update on other efforts by local communities to tackle homelessness. But no action was taken Tuesday on the low-barrier shelter, which would operate for three years until a permanent access center is opened for the homeless.

Board Chairman Jim DeMartini predicted the temporary shelter would fail to produce results. He noted the state is allocating a lot of money for assisting the homeless. But many of those living on the streets are addicts who are not accountable, DeMartini affirmed.

“For the ones who want to be helped, I think there are resources to do it,” the chairman said.

Supervisor Terry Withrow, a chief proponent of using the former county hospital buildings as a shelter, said if someone has a better location, it needs to be brought to the board’s attention within 45 days.

A low-barrier facility has fewer rules about sobriety and pets than a traditional emergency shelter. Withrow said the shelter is an immediate need of two outreach teams that work with the homeless but have no place to send them for the night. To start reducing the impact of homelessness, some have talked of using the low-barrier shelter for about 140 hardcore homeless adults whose behavior causes distress in the community.

The proposed site received a poor reception at a La Loma neighborhood meeting two weeks ago. Some of those residents attended Tuesday’s board meeting to air concerns about loitering in parks, theft and the unsanitary behavior of some homeless people. The county previously worked with Stanislaus Food Products on a site for the low-barrier shelter but it fell through in May over liability issues.

Jody Hayes, county chief executive officer, said the county will talk with its counterparts at the city of Modesto about any alternative sites. “I would hope we don’t just wind up with one alternative,” Hayes said.

Samantha Phillips-Bland, a former staff member for the county Health Services Agency, said it’s not safe to shelter homeless adults with mental illness near a pediatric health clinic that shares the Scenic campus. County health services has plans for relocating its administrative offices from the Scenic campus to a county center off Oakdale Road; in addition, county health clinic services could be outsourced in another potential move.

Tanja Wright said she hoped the new shelter also will serve those who suddenly become homeless due to illness or loss of employment. A group she works with assisted a woman with a bachelor’s degree who became disabled and was sleeping in her car. They found a second woman who was hiding out of fear for her safety.

In both cases, the women had an income and housing in less than six months, Wright said.

Withrow stressed the shelter on Scenic would be temporary. The concerns of nearby residents are understandable, Withrow said, but “we will mitigate their concerns and make sure their neighborhood is not worse off.” The county could quickly shut down the facility if serious problems arise, the supervisor added.

County leaders also approved the concept of asking cities for a concurrent declaration of an emergency-shelter crisis, which would remove some regulations on opening the new shelter and make state funds available for homeless services. The board also heard reports on efforts in Turlock, Patterson and west Modesto to assist the homeless.