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New proposal to house homeless families: Stanislaus County migrant farmworker center

A proposal by Stanislaus County would provide emergency shelter for homeless families at the Empire Migrant Farm Worker Center in Empire, Calif. The property is pictured Monday November 5, 2018.
A proposal by Stanislaus County would provide emergency shelter for homeless families at the Empire Migrant Farm Worker Center in Empire, Calif. The property is pictured Monday November 5, 2018. jlee@modbee.com

Stanislaus County supervisors are considering a proposal to use an Empire migrant center as a cold-weather shelter for homeless families.

Officials said 22 of the 90 dwelling units at the Housing Authority’s Empire Migrant Farm Worker Center would be designated for emergency shelter from mid-November through March. The center, at 5132 South Ave., east of Santa Fe Avenue, does not house migrant farmworker households during that 4 1/2-month period.

In placing the matter before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, county officials cited a pressing need for emergency shelter for parents with children. About 20 children are among the 250-plus homeless sleeping in tents in Modesto’s Beard Brook Park.

A count in 2017 found 243 children among the 1,661 homeless people in Stanislaus County. Some have doubted the accuracy of this year’s count, which tallied an 18-percent drop in the homeless population.

The temporary shelter service in Empire would be in addition to efforts to establish a low-barrier facility adding shelter beds and services for the homeless in Stanislaus County. The low-barrier shelter has been proposed in the former county hospital buildings on Scenic Drive in Modesto, though other sites will be considered.

“It is another opportunity for housing people,” said Supervisor Terry Withrow, who leads the county’s Focus on Prevention initiative, which aims to reduce homelessness. “All our work is for naught if we don’t have a place to put people.”

Kathryn Harwell, director of the county’s community services agency, said there’s a limited supply of transitional housing for homeless families, parents and kids living in cars, and households that don’t have a safe place to live. The apartment and duplex units in Empire will be for families that are already working with county case managers or are newly homeless, Harwell said.

“We have identified some families who have been living in Beard Brook Park,” Harwell noted. “We have been working to transition them to temporary and permanent housing. The migrant center may be a solution to assist them.”

Harwell said the Empire center has an on-site manager for supervising the homeless families 24 hours a day. County agencies will provide the families with supports including childcare, behavioral health services if needed and help with finding employment and permanent housing.

A few nearby residents have opposed the shelter proposal, citing concerns about crime, property values and problems with a sewer pipe that’s under the street.

At the Oct. 4 county Planning Commission hearing, Tom Troffey of Empire said neighboring owners should be compensated for losing property value. He said a barrier was needed at the east end of South Avenue to block pedestrian access to the migrant center from the Tuolumne River area.

Housing Authority staff told county planners that a manager living at the center responds to noise complaints and limits the number of guests in apartments. To enhance security, the migrant center is fenced and a keycode entry restricts vehicle and pedestrian access.

To be eligible for the county’s homeless assistant program, the families must be from Stanislaus County. Some people in the program have their own vehicles and others are provided with transportation.

The county will lease the dwellings from the Housing Authority for about $100,000 with funding from CalWORKS and the housing support program. The Stanislaus County Affordable Housing Corp. will receive $52,000 for additional property management services at the Empire center.

The Board of Supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place, at 1010 10th St., Modesto.

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