Turlock’s homeless could have new temporary home on lot behind Gospel Mission

The Turlock Gospel Mission and the city will discuss whether its possible to let the homeless camp on this vacant lot behind the mission’s shelter. The mission owns the lot.
The Turlock Gospel Mission and the city will discuss whether its possible to let the homeless camp on this vacant lot behind the mission’s shelter. The mission owns the lot. jsilva@modbee.com

The city will talk with Turlock Gospel Mission about letting homeless people camp on the nonprofit’s property, which could provide relief for the homeless who say the city is pushing them from park to park and for the businesses and residents who are tired of dealing with the trash and other problems caused by some of the homeless.

The City Council directed city staff to have these discussions at a Thursday workshop to discuss potential short- and long-term solutions regarding homelessness.

The proposal is for the homeless to camp on the Gospel Mission’s roughly quarter-acre dirt lot behind its shelter, which is in an industrial area near downtown.

Officials stressed this would be a temporary fix and lots of details need to be discussed and worked out — including what temporary means — to determine whether this could happen.

Councilmen Gil Esquer and Andrew Nosrati voiced support for the proposal at Thursday’s meeting.

“We’ve been meeting on this (homelessness) multiple times,” Esquer said in a Friday interview. “We meet, we meet, we meet ... but nothing ever gets started. I thought it’s time to make an attempt to start someplace. Maybe this works, maybe it doesn’t. But let’s at least put the first foot out.”

He said this could be a way of addressing concerns of residents and businesses about the impact of some of the homeless while providing the homeless with a place to stay. He emphasized that letting the homeless camp in city parks is not the solution.

Nosrati said Friday the status quo is not working: “The community is not happy with what is happening now. And the homeless population is not happy.” He proposed at Thursday’s workshop that Turlock go even further and look into other areas of the city where the homeless could camp without affecting residents and businesses.

Councilwoman Nicole Larson said Friday the proposal “is a step in the right direction in terms of finding an immediate solution, not a permanent one, to deal with this issue.” She thanked the Gospel Mission for being willing to entertain the proposal and said Turlock must stay focused on finding more solutions.

Turlock Gospel Mission Executive Director Christian Curby said Friday that he welcomes the discussions with the city.

Homeless ‘don’t know where to go’

He said he gets lots of phone calls from business owners and property owners who ask for his help because people are camping on their properties and won’t leave. He said he recently worked with a homeless man who was camping at a business because the man said he did know where else to go.

“I think that’s the true sentiment of people experiencing homelessness,” Curby said. “They don’t know where to go. In an effort to relieve that tension and provide some relief, we are willing to talk to Turlock.”

City officials have estimated Turlock’s homeless population at about 250 people, which is roughly double the number of emergency shelter beds provided by the Gospel Mission and the We Care Program.

The mission recently opened its day center at night to offer homeless people not in the shelters a place to get out of the cold, have something to eat and rest. But it’s not a shelter. The mission is prohibited from putting in cots because the center does not have fire sprinklers. As many as roughly 30 homeless people, primarily men, are using the day center at night, and it has some additional capacity.

Mayor Amy Bublak said at Thursday’s workshop that the city needs to determine how many homeless people need shelter and how many of them would be willing to camp in the lot behind the mission’s shelter.

Turlock mission opens warming center

Stanislaus County is paying the Gospel Mission $25,000 to cover the cost of operating its day center as a warming center Jan. 1 to March 31. Curby said county officials told him recently they are interested in looking at how the county could continue to work with the mission to help more homeless people.

Turlock is letting homeless people sleep in its parks at night — and even set up tents in bad weather as long at they come down during the day — after a federal court ruled in September that it is cruel and unusual punishment to prosecute people for sleeping on public property when they have no other alternative.

But the city is enforcing its ordinances against storing personal property and setting up camps in city parks. This has led homeless people to say the city is sending mixed messages and pushing them from park to park when it enforces these ordinances. City officials say that is not true.

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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.