Turlock to view shelter options

TURLOCK -- The city could move into the transitional housing business if the City Council approves the first step Tuesday night.

Homelessness has been a big topic for years in this small, conservative city of 69,000 people. It sharply divided residents in 2006 when local churches and business owners argued against city plans for a permanent downtown shelter for the homeless.

The City Council hired the Center for Public Policy at California State University, Stanislaus, for $70,000 to evaluate community opinions on homelessness. City officials, homeless people, shelter workers, business people and church leaders all called the process healing. The different groups met regularly for almost a year hashing through the myriad issues that revolve around homelessness. The report was issued late last summer.

Since then little has happened.

The study recommended creating a "grass-roots action committee" to design a shelter plan. It called upon all the parties to work together.

That action committee was to make a recommendation to the City Council on whether to build a permanent shelter or transitional housing, or do something else. But before that can happen, the council has to create the committee and approve a small amount of funding, which most likely will happen in March, City Manager Tim Kerr said.

In the meantime, city staff has looked into transitional housing programs at the urging of Councilman Kurt Spycher, the same councilman who fought against opening the cold-weather emergency shelter early last year because, he said, it's not cold in November. Transitional housing is different from a shelter, Spycher said Friday, because it is goal-oriented, designed to move people off the streets.

Unlike a shelter, transitional housing is a home or apartment offered to down-and-out people or families at low or no cost. Participants usually have to meet some requirements, such as passing drug tests and either being employed or looking for work.

"To me, I just think it's a way of having a meaningful impact, to move them out of homelessness as productive members of society," he said.

Tuesday night, the council is to hear about a handful of transitional housing programs, from the Central Valley Low Income Housing Corp. in Stockton to the Community Action Agency in Merced. If the council wants to endorse a particular idea or model, city staff could draft a formal request for any private, nonprofit or other groups interested in helping start a transitional housing program. That could range from building one single-family home to "something much grander," Kerr said.

Spycher said he would like to see city-owned "small, apartment-style housing units."

Turlock has about $4.4 million in redevelopment money that by state mandate must go toward low-income housing and can expect another $1.5 million by July. The city also can draw bonds on redevelopment income, so the potential pool is much larger, Kerr said.

"Transitional housing is the next step: getting them into a house that's sustainable and fostering truly independent living," Kerr said.

Is working on step No. 2 when step No. 1 -- a shelter -- is still in the air, putting the cart before the horse?

"No," Kerr said. "I think the council recognizes there will be a shelter component of some kind here in town -- city or faith-based or something else. Really, the decision of whether the city will be in the shelter business long-term still hasn't been addressed."

It will be addressed, Kerr said, through the grass-roots action committees the university study recommended.

We Care, the program that runs the city's emergency shelter, is interested in putting together a package, said Maris Sturtevant, a member of the We Care board. The newly founded Turlock Gospel Mission, which started feeding homeless people last month and hopes to have a shelter up and running by November, is interested, too, board member Chris Kiriakou said.

The Turlock City Council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 156 S. Broadway Ave.

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