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Turlock creates panel on homeless

TURLOCK -- Businessmen, homeless people, the faith-based and social serv-ices will be called on to design a system for moving people off the street and into homes, the City Council decided Monday night.

Whether the committee will unite a damaged city or turn into another layer of bureaucracy hinges on widespread participation, said two California State University, Stanislaus, professors who presented their findings on homelessness to the City Council.

Discussions of homelessness reached a boiling point in spring when downtown businesses and clergy mobilized against city plans for a $2.9 million permanent shelter on B Street, a few blocks from City Hall. City officials stalled the plans and hired the Center for Public Policy Studies at the univer-sity to conduct a $70,000 study of community opinion on homelessness.

The study recommends creating a "grass-roots action committee" to design a plan aimed at getting people off the streets and into homes, which the council blessed Monday. Members of the study's research teams have been asked to volunteer for the job. Almost 40 community members from area business leaders to homeless people participated in everything from focus group sessions to data collection to editing draft copies.

"The lightning rod was the shelter, but the issues go well beyond the shelter," said economics Professor Kelvin Jasek-Rysdahl, who spearheaded the study with Professor John Garcia.

The lightning strike did powerful damage, the professors said. As business people, homeless people, social service providers and faith-based groups began talking about a possible permanent shelter with the professors "mistrust, skepticism, anger and frustration" overshadowed most opinions and ideas, they said.

Business owners were branded cruel, homeless were branded lazy, the faith-based community's mo- tives were questioned and long- standing homeless service pro- viders were labeled ineffective.

If such anger and distrust isn't abandoned and unity isn't reached among the interested parties, the study, the process and the future of the action committee is all for naught, the professors reiterated.

"This is not a simple problem to fix," Jasek-Rysdahl said. "We need to get beyond the idea that one group can do it alone."

Mayor John Lazar and council members Beverly Hatcher and Kurt Vander Weide strongly endorsed the call to arms.

"We were wandering in a wilderness of public policy," Vander Weide said. "You've provided us with a basic road map."

Councilman Ted Howze said city dollars should not be dedicated to a shelter. If anything, the city can direct federal money to front-line services, he said. Councilman Kurt Spycher said the faith-based community should take over any type of shelter and the city should dedicate its dollars, federal or otherwise, to transitional housing programs.

Jasek-Rysdahl took to the podium again, reciting the even- ing's mantra: "No one group can do it alone."

Unlike other homeless-related meetings where tempers flared, fists pounded podiums and officials glanced at each other with nervous half-smiles, Monday night's event drew a small, dedicated crowd, and most of them were active researchers during the study process. The atmos-phere was calm and collected.

Lazar pointed out the improved vibe.

"I'd say there's been a lot of personal growth through the (study) process," he said.

Free copies of the Center for Public Policy Studies report on homelessness are available at City Hall on South Broadway.

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.

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