Modesto close to an alternative to Beard Brook homeless camp

Volunteers bring supplies to homeless camp in Beard Brook Park

Volunteers with the God Always Provides food pantry at Well Community Fellowship church bring food and supplies Friday Oct. 5, 2018 to homeless people camping at Beard Brook Park in Modesto, Calif.
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Volunteers with the God Always Provides food pantry at Well Community Fellowship church bring food and supplies Friday Oct. 5, 2018 to homeless people camping at Beard Brook Park in Modesto, Calif.

Modesto expects to open a new location for the homeless people camping in Beard Brook Park within a couple of weeks, a city official said Friday.

City spokesman Thomas Reeves said Modesto is working with Stanislaus County on vetting two locations and could announce next week which one it will open. He said the city expects it would open that location the following week.

But Modesto Councilman Mani Grewal and county Supervisor Terry Withrow told Bee Opinions Page Editor Mike Dunbar that the proposed site is a vacant building at Calaveras Avenue and Tuolumne Boulevard.

There were more than 60 tents and 100 homeless people in Beard Brook early Friday afternoon, according to a 39-year-old homeless woman named Melanie, who is an unofficial spokesperson and leader at the park.

Melanie said the homeless people in Beard Brook have come together as a community, kept the site clean and not engaged in bad behavior, including fighting and stealing. She said the people staying in the park greatly appreciate the volunteers who have brought food and other help.

But Melanie said she fears the new location also will be temporary and Modesto will revert to its pattern of pushing homeless people from park to park and from spot to spot. Reeves declined to provide details but said that is not the city’s intention.

She said it’s hard for homeless people to work on improving their lives when they are constantly scrambling for a place to stay. Some homeless people avoid The Salvation Army shelter and Modesto Gospel Mission because they separate couples and don’t take pets. Melanie has a boyfriend and a dog.

Melanie said she settled in Beard Brook about two weeks ago and has signed up for the welfare-to-work program and taken other steps to get out of homelessness.

Reeves said the city is not aware of any problems and Beard Brook has operated better than anticipated. He said one benefit is fewer homeless people are camping in other city parks.

Modesto opened Beard Brook to homeless campers on a temporary basis Sept. 18 after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — whose jurisdiction includes California — ruled Sept. 4 that prosecuting people for sleeping on public property because there are not enough shelter beds or other alternatives amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

But Reeves said last week Modesto saw Beard Brook not as an ideal location and had been looking for alternatives.

The park is along Dry Creek and south of Yosemite Boulevard and between the E.&J. Gallo Winery and Stanislaus Food Products, two longtime and iconic Modesto companies. The park’s south end abuts the Tuolumne River Regional Park’s gateway parcel.

There has been a huge investment by the city, the Tuolumne River Trust, Operation 9-2-99 and others to transform the regional park from a dumping ground for people to get rid of their trash and junk and a place for homeless encampments to a recreational mecca.

With the exception of Beard Brook, Modesto continues to enforce its ordinances against camping on private and public property, including its approximately 70 other parks. The number of homeless people at Beard Brook continues to grow and represents a fraction of Modesto’s homeless people who live outdoors.

Several volunteers were at Beard Brook on Friday afternoon giving out food, ice, clothing and other donations.

“I’ve been homeless, and I understand the difficulties they are going through,” said 34-year-old Teresa Bryner, who dropped off 10 blankets. “I see the need.”

But Reeves said Modesto would prefer that those who want to help donate through The Salvation Army, Gospel Mission and other organizations that help the homeless.