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As Stanislaus shelter closes, families face homelessness. County tries to find them help

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’s Community Services Agency has put out a request for landlords who might have available housing for 10 homeless families staying in a winter shelter that is closing.

The county was able to find housing for 13 of the 23 families that stayed in the Empire Cold Weather Shelter this past winter. The shelter is set to close Friday.

The parents and children not placed in housing will most likely return to trying to stay with friends, couch surfing, sleeping in cars or living in tents, county staff members said.

Some of the parents work to pay their bills but face steep rental costs in the current market.

“The lack of availability is the problem,” said Kelly Alvarado, a manager in the agency. “The median market rate is too high for a lot of families to afford.”

Faced with a homeless crisis gripping Stanislaus County and the state, county leaders made arrangements last fall with the Housing Authority to temporarily house homeless parents and their children in the seasonal migrant farmworker center in Empire. The gated center usually closes from mid-November through March.

The Housing Authority needs to get ready for farmworkers due to arrive in April. Despite a limited inventory of program housing, the county’s Community Services Agency has placed more than half the homeless families in transitional housing units, rental homes or apartments.

In a news release, the county said the remaining 10 families qualify for two housing programs. Under the Homeless Assistance Program, families that receive cash assistance are provided with additional help with rental deposits paid directly to the landlord, plus assistance with utility deposits and last month’s rent.

The Housing Support Program assists families that qualify for cash assistance and the welfare-to-work program. Those families are eligible for the same benefits of the Homeless Assistance Program as well as double rental deposits, payment of utility bills in arrears, rental subsidies and intensive case management.

In addition, the county provides landlord liaison and partnership services.

County staff came up with a creative approach to finding available housing units for some of the sheltered families, holding a landlord appreciation luncheon March 11. Sandwiches and soup from Panera were served to eight landlords who attended the event in Harvest Hall.

The landlords heard about the needs of families staying at the shelter and program details. Alvarado said participating landlords offered six units immediately and later called CSA with a few more.

Larger families are the most difficult to place. The county still is trying to place a low-income family of six that stayed at the shelter.

There are long waiting lists for low-income housing dwellings in Stanislaus County, and applications aren’t being taken for Section 8 housing.

According to county staff, the winter shelter in Empire had a stabilizing effect on families struggling with the hardships of being homeless. A mother who spoke at the landlord’s luncheon was able to become certified as an emergency medical technician and is working to obtain a nursing license.

The parents who stayed at the shelter are from different backgrounds, Alvarado said. Some have been in recovery, some are employed, and some are attending school to get their lives on track.

Stanislaus County and Modesto recently firmed up a multimillion-dollar plan for dealing with the homeless crisis including a 180-bed low-barrier shelter at the Salvation Army’s Berberian center on Ninth Street and conversion of the Salvation Army community center on Seventh Street to transitional housing for youth and families.

Another big challenge is developing additional low-income and affordable housing. Typically, the county serves in a partnership role to provide funding for cities or other agencies to develop those projects.

Any landlords with available housing for the homeless families at the Empire shelter may obtain more information by calling Rebecca Monroe of the Community Services Agency at 209-857-1991, or send an email to CSA-Housing@stancounty.com.

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