First phase of homeless people move from Beard Brook to camp under Modesto bridge

Jeff Lossing and Vickie Dupire had been living in a tent at a homeless camp in Modesto’s Beard Brook Park for the past four months. They said it was tough.

They were appreciative of the tent they were given at the park, but it was so small that they found it difficult to change their clothes in such a cramped space. They had a tarp on top of the tent, but rain would puddle underneath and sometimes seep inside.

The homeless couple said they were happy and ready to move out of the park Wednesday. They moved their belongings over to a new homeless camp underneath the Ninth Street Bridge near the Tuolumne River, where local officials offer donated, uniform tents in what is planned as more organized temporary shelter.

“I’m not worried at all about fitting all of our stuff in this tent; it’s twice as big as what we had,” Lossing said.

On Wednesday, about 20 homeless people living at the park were expected to move their belongings a couple hundred yards to the new camp under the bridge, said Modesto spokesman Thomas Reeves.

Officials are moving them in phases after they are registered. More will be moved in the coming days.

“We’re moving them in methodically,” Reeves said.

Crews had erected more than 100 10-foot-by-10-foot tents at the city and county-approved homeless camp under the bridge, just north of the river.

Jeff Lossing and Vickie Dupire relocate from Beard Brook Park to the new Modesto Outdoor Emergency Shelter for the homeless under the Ninth Street Bridge in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

The new camp has fencing surrounding it to ensure the safety of those living there, Reeves said. The camp also will have security guards, but there won’t be any harsh restrictions about entering or leaving the camp.

“They can come and go as they please,” Reeves said.

Some still living at Beard Brook Park were hesitant about moving to the new camp. One man complained that the new camp doesn’t have enough tents for everyone.

Officials have said about 400 homeless men, women and children have been living at the park for the past few months; some tents were homes to multiple people.

A Reno-based company called Qamp has donated a few hundred tents for the new camp under the bridge. Reeves said that once more people register to move in, the fencing around the camp will be expanded for more tents to go up.

But there is a strict policy about what the homeless people can bring to the new camp. They have to fit all their belongings into their tents, which were set up directly next to each other. There’s no room for bikes or other large objects to be left outside the tents.

“Whatever they can fit into this space, they can bring,” Reeves said.

Genie Garcia and Lloyd Madewell go through registration process at the new Modesto Outdoor Emergency Shelter for the homeless under the Ninth Street Bridge in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

Officials are directing people to trash bins, where they can get rid of anything they don’t need or can’t fit into the tent. Lossing and Dupire said they rent a small storage unit in downtown Modesto — a $70 monthly cost — to store clothes, a television and a heater.

They said they receive about $750 monthly in Social Security and other government financial assistance. The homeless couple used to use their Social Security money to live in motels in Oklahoma before they came to Modesto.

“That’s what was chewing up all of our money,” Lossing said.

The couple moved their belongings slowly Wednesday, a little at a time, in a small grocery cart. Dupire said she was just happy to get out of the park, where there are constant offers of drugs and too many people hoarding donated items only to toss them in the trash bins later.

They’ll have to live under the bridge, which will keep their tents dry during rainy weather, but can be noisy with the constant sound of vehicles moving overhead.

“The noise won’t bother us,” Dupire said.

Stanislaus County officials reached an agreement last week with the nonprofit Turning Point Community Programs, which will provide outreach and engagement services to people living at the camp under the bridge. Turning Point staffers will be at the camp to focus on helping people find housing and other services.

The contract dictates that the county will pay Turning Point $380,000 through June 30. City and county officials insist that the homeless camp is a temporary, emergency solution as they continue to look for and consider other options to shelter people.

Modesto allowed homeless people to camp in Beard Brook Park after the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 4 that it was cruel and unusual punishment to prosecute people for sleeping on public property if there are not enough shelter beds or other alternatives.

Reeves said that once every homeless person willing move into the new camp does so, Modesto police will post notices at Beard Brook Park. The homeless people who remain at the park will be advised to leave or be cited for violating municipal ordinances against camping in city parks.

Junior Lopez moves into his tent at the new Modesto Outdoor Emergency Shelter for the homeless under the Ninth Street Bridge in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

Those moving into the new homeless camp are being told to clean up their tent space at the park, since the city will work to restore Beard Brook Park and make all of it available to the public again.

Jose Sanchez, Sara Mendoza and their four children were getting ready to live in a tent at the park a couple of weeks ago, before a social worker helped them find some financial help to pay for a motel room. After 14 days at a motel, the family had to leave.

So, the family of six was moved into a tent at the new homeless camp under the bridge on Wednesday. Mendoza remembered the several hours they spent at the park and was grateful they didn’t have to return there.

“Here it kind of seems more organized,” Mendoza said.

They said they tried other shelters in Modesto, but they faced requirements that divided the family or didn’t allow children. But they’ve met kind people, including volunteers at the park who gave them a ride to the new homeless camp. They also think that Sanchez’s recent interview at a Gustine dairy went well, and the $19-an hour job could change their lives for the better.

“We’ve had a lot of closed doors, but a lot of blessings at the same time,” Mendoza said. “We’re just hoping things go well.”

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.