They thought they’d found a home. Turlock’s homeless now on the move again

Homeless moved from camp under Turlock overpass

A homeless encampment of a few dozen people living under the overpass on Golden State Blvd. in Turlock, Calif. was cleared by Stanislaus County on Thursday morning November 15, 2018.
Up Next
A homeless encampment of a few dozen people living under the overpass on Golden State Blvd. in Turlock, Calif. was cleared by Stanislaus County on Thursday morning November 15, 2018.

For about the past month a few dozen homeless men and women have felt like they had a home as they camped under the Golden State Boulevard overpass near G Street.

They pitched tents, sat in lawn chairs and rested in busted up couches and other furniture. Some said the encampment made them feel safe and gave them a sense of stability. One woman came out daily to bring them food. She brought banana nut bread Wednesday that she had baked herself.

That ended Thursday morning.

Stanislaus County cleared out what remained of the encampment after posting a notice Nov. 5, stating the homeless campers had 10 days to remove themselves and their possessions because they were encroaching upon the county’s right of way and posed a health and safety risk to themselves and passing motorists. The encampment was on county property.

County public works employees and sheriff’s deputies stood by as the homeless cleared out Thursday morning, with many moving across the street to railroad property to give themselves time to gather their thoughts about their next steps.

Others piled themselves and their belongings into cars that drove off. One woman named Maria, who said she had two family members at the encampment, provided rides for the homeless to wherever they wanted to go. The county public works employees then removed what had been left behind.

“We don’t want to be a nuisance, an embarrassment or trouble,” said Michelle Pratt, one of the homeless campers, in a Wednesday interview. “My mom and my son live here (in Turlock). We just want a safe place to live.”

Pratt said 50 to 75 homeless men and women and their dogs had stayed at the encampment. Pratt, 47, said she’s been homeless on-and-off for a decade. When asked why, she said “bad choices, drugs, men, bad choices, health.”

Some homeless people said the encampment started after Turlock police officers suggested they go there instead of where they were staying in the city. Police Chief Nino Amirfar said that is not true. He said the overpass was the site of another large encampment about a decade ago.

The county about a week ago brought in portable toilets and hand-washing stations, and dumpsters. The county also had its outreach and engagement team go to the site and help connect people to services in the days before the cleanup.

“There are a lot of good people there (in the encampment),” said sheriff’s Lt. Mike Parker, who was at Thursday’s cleanup. “They are just facing some really rough circumstances in their life. All they are looking for is a place to go.

“It’s pretty heartbreaking for the deputies to tell these people they have to go. They are begging us to tell them where to go, but we don’t have the answers for them.”

This is another example of the lack of shelter beds and housing for the homeless in Stanislaus County. Turlock has two shelters. The We Care shelter has 49 beds for men and is running at capacity. The Turlock Gospel Mission has 59 beds for single women and women with children and has some room but is expected to fill up as the weather gets colder.

But some homeless people don’t like to stay in shelters because they cannot abide by all of the rules and regulations or because the shelters won’t take their pets and partners. There are no what are termed “low-barrier shelters” in the county, which take in partners, pets and possessions.

Modesto opened its Beard Brook Park to homeless campers on a temporary basis Sept. 18 after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — whose jurisdiction includes California — ruled Sept. 4 that prosecuting people for sleeping on public property because there are not enough shelter beds or other alternatives amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

City spokesman Thomas Reeves said about 300 people are camping in the park. He said there has been an increase in the number of calls for police and medical services, but that was expected. He said there have been no major problems at the park in the nearly two months it has been a homeless encampment.

Turlock City Manager Bob Lawton said he does not see opening a city park to the homeless as a solution for Turlock. “I think the creation of another Beard Brook within the city on city property ... is extremely unlikely,” he said.

Lawton said Turlock’s concerns include the potential for public health hazards and the difficulties of maintaining an encampment once the weather turns colder and wetter.

He said Turlock and the Gospel Mission’s homeless navigator worked with the homeless people camping under the overpass to offer them services. Lawton said Turlock continues to work with Stanislaus County on finding answers to homelessness.

County Deputy Executive Officer Ruben Imperial said the county has been working with the city to find a location for these and other homeless people and that work will continue.

Amirfar, the Turlock police chief, said in the wake of the circuit court of appeals’ decision his officers are letting homeless people sleep in city parks as long as there is no room for them in a shelter. But he said Turlock is not allowing homeless people to set up tents and campsites in parks.

Several homeless people at the Golden State Boulevard encampment said Thursday they planned on setting up camp in a city park. Amirfar said officers cited homeless people for setting up tents and refusing to remove them at a city park.