Homelessness is a crisis in California. This week, the mayors of the state’s 11 biggest cities asked the state for $2 billion to confront it.
Homeless in Modesto and Stanislaus County is part of that crisis. But here, we have a very real opportunity to make a difference and quickly. And we have all the tools we need to do it.
Tuesday, Stanislaus County’s board of supervisors will be asked to fund creation of a Temporary Low Barrier Emergency Shelter and Day Center on the edge of downtown Modesto. It’s an excellent concept arising from the Focus on Prevention project; it has support from the Stanislaus Community Foundation, the United Way and Stanislaus Foods, which owns the land.
If everything falls into place, the shelter could be operating by June. That’s if nothing gets in the way.
Like the city of Modesto.
It was thought, until Friday, the city would vote to support the shelter, also on Tuesday. Apparently, that vote won’t take place. Instead, the city council will hear a presentation on the specifics.
No one can deny homelessness is a crisis. It affects some 1,650 people in Stanislaus County; of those, roughly 800 are sleeping on bus-stop benches, in tents by the river, in cars or in alleys each night. They’re not healthy, nor is their lifestyle. Many abuse drugs or alcohol. But that doesn’t make them any less human.
At the least, they need a safe, dry place to sleep. The low-barrier shelter will provide that for 60 of them.
“Is this a perfect solution, a silver bullet?” asked Community Foundation CEO Marian Kaanon. “No. Is it the first step to learning more about the chronically homeless? Yes. We have to start somewhere.”
Using a $2.5 million state grant secured by Assemblyman Adam Gray and $1 million from the Stanislaus Community Foundation, shipping containers will be modified for housing. Some will be sectioned off into 60 bedrooms with doors and windows; each will have a sprinkler and heater. Others will have showers and toilets and some washing machines, dryers and lockers.
The shelter will be on what Supervisor Terry Withrow called a perfect location – the block bounded by 9th, 10th, C and B streets. Stanislaus Foods will lease it to the city for a nominal fee.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” said Brad Hawn, who is leading this project for Focus on Prevention, the countywide program that identified homelessness as one of the most pressing problems in the county.
“I get two or three emails a week talking about the homeless. ‘You’ve been taking so long, we want to see something. Do something!’” councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer told The Bee’s editorial board. She wants the city council to be unanimous in supporting this project. That’s because the low-barrier shelter provides many “somethings.”
The county will use part of its funding to hire outreach workers to help the homeless navigate state and local programs.
“It’s an environment of change,” said Hawn, “of leaving behind what you need to leave behind.”
Former county CEO Stan Risen helped start Focus on Prevention, and sees the navigators as essential. “The key is connecting them to the wide array of services available,” he said. “The goal is to co-locate an access center for the outreach team at the shelter.”
In talking with the homeless, said Hawn, he found they are most concerned with the “3 Ps” – partners, pets and possessions. Shelters run by charities often won’t allow partners to remain together or pets to be brought in. The low-barrier shelter will accommodate all three – allowing the homeless to store possessions in secure lockers. That’s just one of the details the shelter will address.
County CEO Jody Hayes and interim city manager Joe Lopez will handle Tuesday’s council presentation. “We are definitely interested in the city’s feedback; it’s very important to the county,” said Hayes.
The council will likely have several good ideas; but moving the shelter outside city limits can’t be one of them. As the mayors of California’s 11 largest cities have already made clear, urban homelessness is a crisis. Now. Modesto can be at the forefront of solving at least a small part of it and should with all haste.
Some council members might need more time to come up to speed on this project. While they’re catching up, people will continue sleeping in the cold and the rain; living with psychosis and addiction. So take your time.
But until then, just know you’re not part of the solution.