Kevin Valine

Kevin Valine: It’s déjà vu for Modesto and homeless

A homeless man, who said he was “taking a break,” sleeps on Eighth Street in Modesto on Wednesday.
A homeless man, who said he was “taking a break,” sleeps on Eighth Street in Modesto on Wednesday. aalfaro@modbee.com

It feels like déjà vu all over again as Modesto looks at regulations on feeding people in parks and more restrictions on panhandling because of growing complaints about the homeless.

Nearly four years ago, the city’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness issued its recommendations on what the City Council could do to improve the quality of life for all of Modesto’s residents. The council’s Safety and Communities Committee formed the commission over complaints about the homeless. The commission spent six months on research before issuing its report.

The commission recommended:

▪ Better coordination of the services offered to the homeless

▪ Enhanced outreach to the homeless

▪ A public education campaign to let residents know what’s available and the most effective ways to help (such as not giving to panhandlers and instead giving to groups that help the homeless)

▪ Establishing a day center for the homeless

▪ Dedicated resources for park safety and security

But since the report was issued in September 2011, little of what was recommended has been put into action.

“I think it was a missed opportunity,” said Steve Madison, who served on the panel, is executive director of the Stanislaus County Affordable Housing Corp. and serves on the advisory board of the Salvation Army.

The city still was cutting its budget and staff when the report was issued, but Madison said some of what the report recommended, such as starting a website to coordinate and not duplicate services, and educating the public on the best ways to help the homeless, required little if any funding.

Madison said they required leadership and interest in tackling homelessness, but he said “none of that was apparent.”

Mayor Garrad Marsh, who was a councilman when the report was issued, disagrees. He said the city followed up on some of the recommendations by sending out information on how to help the homeless in one of the monthly newsletters the city sends to residents and businesses and by having private security patrol city parks. Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Manager Andy Johnson said Modesto has been budgeting $45,000 annually for three years to have Rank Investigations and Protection patrol parks as problems arise.

“I don’t think it was a wasted opportunity,” Marsh said. “I think they laid out what the needs were, and the solutions were not readily available. And that is what we are still looking at.”

The report is available at http://bit.ly/1UTMyZT.

Modesto also underwent a lot of turnover after the report came out. Marsh and Councilman Dave Lopez are the only current members who were on the council when the report was released, and the city has turned over many of its top managers.

Marsh said the city has not had the money for what he considers the commission’s most important recommendation: starting a day center. These centers give the homeless the opportunity to receive services, get something to eat, shower and wash their clothes.

He added that he is optimistic about the county’s Focus on Prevention effort to find long-term solutions to homelessness. As part of this effort, a summit on homelessness will be held Oct. 1 at Modesto Centre Plaza.

Former Blue Ribbon commission members Dave Wright and Frank Ploof agreed that the city did little with the commission’s report. “They said, ‘Thank you,’ and that was it,” said Wright, who served as commission chairman. But both are hopeful about the county’s Focus on Prevention effort and have participated in discussions.

“The real story is what is going on right now,” Ploof said. “This is vastly different, much more community-based, much more in-depth. This is really a community initiative and discussion.”

More information about Focus on Prevention is available at www.preventionfocus.net.

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