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Turlock moving ahead on homeless

Darryl Allen has been homeless one month. He credits the cold weather emergency shelter with keeping him safe. "It's really unjust for them to close the shelter. It smacks of insensitivity," he said.
Darryl Allen has been homeless one month. He credits the cold weather emergency shelter with keeping him safe. "It's really unjust for them to close the shelter. It smacks of insensitivity," he said. Modesto Bee

TURLOCK -- Wanted: 5,000-square-foot warehouse with sprinklers, disabled-accessible, ample parking, modern building preferred, available this winter and next. Not in downtown!

City staff, representatives of nonprofit and faith-based groups and employees of California State University, Stanislaus, met Tuesday morning to outline what's needed to have an emergency cold weather homeless shelter up and running by November.

To clear city planning and zoning hurdles, the building needs to be identified by July. The only area in the city already zoned for a shelter, thus avoiding those hurdles, is the south end of downtown, in the area of 400 B St. City Council members said earlier this month that they will not support opening the cold weather shelter there next winter.

So where can a shelter go?

"It's a challenge, especially if you're looking outside the downtown area," Debbie Whitmore, the city's deputy director of Development Services, told the group.

City staff has looked for options before and come up empty-handed, but most seemed to agree that it isn't a city issue anymore.

"I think it's up to us as a community to come up with a plan, then go to the city and say, 'This is what we're doing. Can you help us?' Together we're strong," said Michael Shinkel, founder of Solidarity Fellowship, a transitional housing program for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics.

The meeting was the short-term effort in the city's two-part approach to homelessness: Immediately find a way to keep people warm in the winter, away from downtown. The long-term effort is to help people permanently get off the streets through a long-term shelter, transitional housing or other options. Both efforts moved forward Tuesday.

At its evening meeting, the City Council approved $19,000 for the Center for Public Policy at the university to build a citizen committee to draft the long-term homeless plan.

When construction of a permanent shelter was stopped in 2006 after downtown businesses and clergy protested, the city hired the center to conduct a $70,000 study on community opinion of homelessness.

Homeless representatives, business owners, nonprofit groups, the faith-based community and others, which all participated in the study, will be called back together to decide what needs to happen to move people off the streets and into homes.

"It's not about building consensus," said economics Professor Kelvin Jasek-Rysdahl, who spearheaded the study, "it's about how we get these people to work together. How do you get these people with a differing point of view to move in a common direction?"

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

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