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Turlock winter shelter still a go

TURLOCK -- Downtown will have a city-sponsored cold weather emergency homeless shelter again this winter, and there may be a second, faith-based, homeless shelter for struggling families nearby.

The City Council grudgingly approved plans for a shelter Tuesday night and listened to plans for building a new shelter on West Olive Avenue on the border of downtown.

Turlock owns an abandoned warehouse on B Street in downtown that's housed homeless people the past three winters. The city put operating the building out to public bid after a faith-based group, the Turlock Gospel Mission, vied for control.

Group members said they wanted to take control of the cold weather emergency shelter from We Care, an organization started by the Turlock Community Collaborative headed by Bill and Maris Sturtevant -- longtime fixtures at the United Samaritans Foundation, which provides food and clothes to homeless people throughout Stanislaus County.

But Tuesday night, Chris Kiriakou, a gospel mission board member, said his peers have dropped plans for an emergency shelter in favor of a family shelter program, a need identified in the $70,000 California State University, Stanislaus, report on homelessness issued last week.

City Manager Tim Kerr has said the mission group, if it were to run the cold weather shelter, could not make religious service or study compulsory, because the building was bought with federal dollars.

"That was a factor," Kiriakou said.

The family shelter will start in a 5,000-square-foot education building owned by First Baptist Church on West Olive. The building has a large kitchen, eating hall and several second-story rooms that could serve as dormitories for single parents or couples with children, Kiriakou said.

He said the group should have its first paid employee, an executive director, next month. The executive director will draft rules and requirements for board approval, he said. Salary for that position has not been determined, but, all told, the operation should cost about $150,000 with all the money raised through churches, he said.

If successful, the group hopes to expand into other church buildings around the city, start construction of its own center and expand services.

The only group to submit a bid to run the winter shelter, We Care, was awarded about $140,000 to do so Tuesday night, but not without disagreement. Rather than operate the shelter November through April, as the city first requested, Councilman Kurt Spycher asked to slash two months from the plan, operating it December through March, saying November and April aren't that cold.

"My hat's off to anyone who can predict the weather tomorrow, let alone April and November," Bill Sturtevant told the council. "Remember, we're talking about human beings on the street here."

The city opted to extend the shelter into November and April last year because it was cold and rainy then.

The shelter was approved for operation Nov. 10 through March 31. Spycher saved the city about $50,000.

"I'm not heartless," Spycher said.

After those homeless supporters left the council chamber, $9.3 million for the new Car-negie Arts Center was discussed.

City staff has identified a potential $20 million in new money, City Manager Kerr said.

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

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