On sidewalks, in parks, even in a landlocked boat, volunteers count Stanislaus homeless

Surveying Riverbank’s homeless

Volunteers in Riverbank sought out the city’s small number of homeless for the Stanislaus County 2019 point-in-time count Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.
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Volunteers in Riverbank sought out the city’s small number of homeless for the Stanislaus County 2019 point-in-time count Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.

Jamie Clayton of Riverbank has two children, ages 2 and 1. They live in town with her mother.

Jamie, though, lives with her boyfriend in a shack on the grounds where a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway ice-making plant used to stand. The 25-year-old said she hasn’t had a real home since 10 years ago when she moved out of her mom’s place.

On Thursday morning, volunteers taking part in the annual count of homeless people in Stanislaus County and its nine cities interviewed Clayton and a longtime friend sitting in an old Bayliner Capri power boat that someone dumped on the concrete foundation of the former plant at Terminal and Van Dusen avenues.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires what are called continuums of care to conduct these tallies as part of applying for HUD homeless funding. The local continuum is called the Stanislaus Community System of Care, and its members include local governments and homeless service providers.

These point-in-time counts provide a snapshot of homelessness in communities across the nation. They should not be considered definitive, but they raise awareness and give service providers valuable information — including how many homeless people are veterans and whether they have a disability — that allows them to tailor their services.

The counts actually take place over two days.

Volunteers on Wednesday counted homeless people in local shelters, including the Host House in Patterson, the We Care shelter in Turlock and The Salvation Army shelter in Modesto. Volunteers on Thursday fanned out across the county to count homeless people living along rivers and creeks, in parks and alleys, and elsewhere outdoors.

Clayton has been on the Terminal Avenue property about a year and a half. Her boyfriend, who wasn’t there Thursday morning, has been there four years. And friend Bradley Fisk, who sleeps in the boat, recently arrived after his girlfriend broke up with him.

A high school graduate, Clayton said she’s never had a steady job. She’s been paid “under the table” for work and would like to escape homelessness, but said that unless she could at least shower daily and make herself presentable, no employer would even look at her.

She said she has no criminal record, and a search of the Stanislaus County Superior Court case index backs that. “I don’t get down like that. My mama raised me better than that,” Clayton said.

She’s moved around to different parts of the county, and said she found the best homeless services in Turlock, where thanks to United Samaritans Foundation, she was able to get daily breakfasts, showers and laundry services.

She returned to the City of Action, where she gets by on food stamps and by recycling, because “this is home. I was born and raised in Riverbank.” And she gets to see her children, whom she handed over guardianship of to her mother when they were born.

Riverbank has so few homeless, City Manager Sean Scully said, that at this time of year, Clayton and Fisk make up 20 to 25 percent of the unsheltered population.

In the first couple of hours of doing the homeless count Thursday, Scully and fellow surveyors Deanna Garcia and Nai Sosongkham had found only five. They’d continue combing the city, including places the homeless are known to frequent.

But that’s not the case in Modesto, where officials say there are more than 400 homeless people living in the tent city at Beard Brook Park, which the city opened to homeless campers in mid September. That does not include the other homeless people living elsewhere in the city.

There were roughly 160 volunteers counting Modesto’s homeless, including several interviewing people gathered at and near the Transportation Center in downtown.

That included 64-year-old Jim Yarber, who said he has been disabled for about 20 years after suffering a brain aneurysm and receives a roughly $950 monthly disability payment.

Yarber, who was using a wheelchair Thursday, said he has been homeless for about a year after the home he had been renting on Fourth Street was foreclosed. He said the rent took up about half of his income. He said he has been in Modesto about eight years and moved here from San Bernardino because he has a son here.

“He’s on Section 8, and I don’t want to mess that up for him,” Yarber said when asked why he doesn’t live with his son and referring to the federal program that pays part of the rent for poor people. Yarber said his plan is to live with a friend in Las Vegas but he needs to get an ID so he can fly there.

The Stanislaus Community System of Care and its predecessor, the Stanislaus County Housing and Support Services Collaborative, have conducted these counts since 2005.

This year’s count was better organized and planned and had more volunteers than previous ones. The count had about 240 volunteers, which is roughly twice as many as previous counts, said Maryn Pitt, a system of care board member and one of the count organizers. Pitt also is the assistant to the Turlock city manager for housing and economic development.

She said one of the reasons an accurate count is critical is that California is providing funding to local communities to deal with the crisis and that funding can be tied to a community’s homeless population.

For instance, the state’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program recently awarded the system of care $7.2 million based in part on the results of the 2017 count, which tallied 1,661 people.

And Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2019-20 budget, which starts July 1, includes $500 million for local communities to build emergency shelters, navigation centers (which provide shelter and services for the homeless) and supportive housing.

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Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.