TURLOCK -- Eight months pregnant, knees scuffed and dizzy, Victoria Mayfield, 26, rolled up a few blankets and trudged into the street Tuesday morning.
The cold weather emergency shelter at 400 B St. -- the only shelter in Turlock -- closed Tuesday. Plans for an apartment fell through last week, and as Tuesday evening stretched toward Wednesday, Victoria and her new husband, Randy Mayfield, 46, expected a night in the cold -- camping, most likely, on a slab of pavement near Foster Farms in the industrial southern end of town. Perhaps, if they could find a good price, a motel room.
They weren't the only couple calling motels. More than 60 people who thought of the shelter as home were talking about what to do and where to go Tuesday morning. Nine hours later, at a much-anticipated meeting, the City Council was talking about homelessness, too.
Victoria was at the meeting, until she walked out holding her belly, her face tense, wincing in pain.
Since 2006, homelessness has been the most divisive issue in Turlock. Shouting matches, rivalries, college studies, promises, protests and numerous delays have come to define the issue. The City Council sought to cut through all that Tuesday and formulated some goals to do it:
The city will move forward in crafting a long-term homeless plan, such as a 10-year plan to end homelessness, with the help of the Center for Public Policy at California State University, Stanislaus.
City Manager Tim Kerr suggested selling the B Street warehouse, which has sheltered the homeless for four years, and using the money to come up with an immediate solution. Speed, he said, is of the essence.
Speed, the council agreed, is key.
"B Street has run its course, in that location," said Vice Mayor Kurt Vander Weide, adding that the city was obligated to have some form of emergency shelter up and running this winter.
Many expressed support for a new location. Business owners near B Street calculated costs of litter and other cleanup related to vagrants at hundreds of thousand of dollars annually. Others questioned the wisdom of saying the location definitely will not be used again because of the difficulty in finding and establishing a new shelter, even a temporary one, in eight or nine months.
Everyone agreed that something must be done and fast.
"We can't wait any longer," said Steven Baccus, co-owner of On Broadway with Two Guys, a catering business kitty-cornered from a popular homeless hang-out. "I say that for the homeless people, the business, the Police Department and the (emergency room). Everyone says, 'Not in my neighborhood.' It happens everywhere, so we need to get on it now."
Construction of a permanent shelter at the B Street site was stopped in 2006 when downtown clergy and business protested the location. California State University, Stanislaus, was hired to conduct a $70,000 study on community opinion on the issue, which was released last fall.
The study recommends creating grass-roots committees of the homeless, homeless service providers, businesses and residents to draft a long-term approach for moving people off the streets and into homes. The council unofficially endorsed that plan Tuesday. A formal vote is expected at an upcoming meeting.
Victoria didn't make it to that part of the meeting. She didn't hear any discussion of the university's plan. She walked out onto Broadway Avenue and stumbled in the street. Someone called an ambulance, and she was taken to Emanuel Medical Center.
Hope for a job, housing
Victoria's day had started two blocks over, on B Street, where her husband loaded bags into a friend's pickup to be taken to a family storage shed. There was even a little hope for a dairy job that comes with worker housing. Randy, who works construction, waited for his boss, who came by to help him move, but couldn't offer work that day.
Methamphetamine and bad relationships brought Randy and Victoria to the street. They first met in Broadway Park, then again at the breakfast window of United Samaritans on Broadway Avenue. When Victoria got pregnant, they both quit drugging and Randy started the construction gig, making an average of $60 a day. Their friend Jeremiah Fair, pastor of Crossroads Church, married them March 8 with wedding rings bought on a Wal-Mart gift card.
Late in pregnancy, Victoria tends to get dizzy. Her knees are scuffed from a recent fall. In a city without public restrooms, she always has to go to the bathroom. But despite her condition and the regular homeless issues, she's in good health, said her physician, James Lilligren.
"To me it's incomprehensible," he said. "Living out there, there are hygiene issues, dietary issues, weather issues, safety issues. And it's not like she's the first homeless lady we've taken care of. I don't turn anyone away."
Last week, the Mayfields tried Social Services and private apartment complexes.
"Most of the help," Victoria said, "we can't get until the baby is born."
They made some phone calls about a hotel room and decided they had enough money for close to two nights, but they didn't know if it was worth the expense. The expense, it turned out, was that of Emanuel, the state and federal government. Victoria was taken to the emergency room with intense pain in her stomach, and late Tuesday night, with the pain gone and no major diagnosis, she was in limbo.
"Nobody has a plan," her doctor said. "That's the whole problem when this happens. Obviously, we can't dump them on the streets. ... If she wasn't homeless, they'd probably send her home in a cab, but you can't get her a cab to nowhere."
Everyone agreed that can't happen. Everyone agreed Victoria needs a somewhere.
Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2391.