A few dozen homeless people who had been living in Turlock’s Broadway Park were on the move again Wednesday after city workers removed what the city said was illegally stored personal property.
While Turlock officials say the city is not kicking homeless people out of the park and only enforcing a city ordinance against the storage of personal property in public places, some of the homeless had a different perspective. They say the park had been their home.
“There is nowhere for us to go,” said one homeless woman who asked to be identified by her first name of Crystal as she packed up her belongings before the city workers arrived. “They will run us out no matter where we go. The city of Turlock is disgraced by ... they don’t want homeless in their city. But it’s a nationwide epidemic.”
Crystal said she is 43 years old and has been homeless for about a year after completing an alcohol rehab program. She said she was promised housing when she got out of rehab but it fell through. She said she had been homeless for about a year before entering rehab.
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Turlock posted notices Tuesday in Broadway Park giving the homeless 24 hours to remove their belongings before city workers arrived at 2 p.m. Thursday to take any belongings left behind into storage and clean up the park. Most of the homeless had cleared out before the city workers arrived. The homeless who had their possessions taken into storage can retrieve them from the city.
Turlock took similar action in Broadway Park on Nov. 27 and in the undeveloped part of Montana Park in late December after homeless people were camping in the parks. And Stanislaus County in mid-November cleared out a homeless encampment underneath a Golden State Boulevard overpass in Turlock, saying it was a safety risk to the homeless and the motorists who drove by the camp.
Some of the homeless in Broadway Park on Wednesday said they had lived under the overpass and the two city parks before being cleared out.
Wednesday’s enforcement action came after some of the residents near Broadway Park complained that the homeless have taken over the park. They also say the homeless have trashed the park and claim the park has been the site of drug deals and prostitution. Some residents say the park is not safe for them and their children and grandchildren to use.
Mayor Amy Bublak said in a phone interview Wednesday that Turlock has to balance the needs of the homeless against those of the city’s residents and businesses. She said the city’s parks are for the enjoyment of all of Turlock.
Bublak said Turlock is working with Stanislaus County, homeless service providers and the community on finding short- and long-term solutions to homelessness. The City Council held a special meeting Dec. 12 for the public to brainstorm potential solutions, including providing bathrooms for the homeless, job training programs and housing.
The council will hold a special meeting Thursday to continue that discussion and get updates from city staff regarding potential solutions. The public meeting starts at 2 p.m. in the Yosemite Room at City Hall, 156 South Broadway.
City officials have estimated Turlock’s homeless population at 250 people, which is more than double the number of emergency shelter beds offered by the We Care Program and the Turlock Gospel Mission.
We Care runs a 49-bed men’s shelter, which officials have said runs at capacity in the winter. The Gospel Mission operates a 57-bed women and children’s shelter, which has been running at capacity since the end of December, according to Executive Director Christian Curby.
But the mission has been operating its day center as a warming center at night since Jan. 1. The mission cannot operate the center as shelter and provide cots, but the homeless can spend the night out of the cold, get something to eat and nap. Curby said the day center has been drawing 23 to 30 homeless people at night, primarily men, and most of them spend the entire night.
The county is providing the mission with $25,000 to cover the cost of operating the day center as a warming center. The contract, which was executed Wednesday, is for Jan. 1 through March 31.
While Turlock is enforcing its regulations against storing private possessions in public spaces, it is letting homeless people sleep in city parks at night if there are no available shelter beds. The city is doing this after a September federal court ruling said it is cruel and unusual punishment to prosecute people for sleeping on public property when there are no available shelter beds.
Turlock police have allowed homeless people to put up tents at night based on the weather but is requiring them to take them down during the day.