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Need for food, housing rises as local nonprofits’ funding disappears

POSTED November 11, 2011 11:19 p.m.

As temperatures drop and rain starts to pour, Turlock is home to more homeless than perhaps ever before.

"I think it's a function of the economy,” said Turlock Gospel Mission board member Chris Kiriakou. “It’s not improving at the rate people thought it would. People on the edge can hang on so long, but what's happened is that they're end of the rope, basically.”

Between January and July, United Samaritans Foundation served 14,000 more lunches in 2011 than in 2010 – “a huge increase” in USF director Barbara Bawanan’s words. The vast majority of those served by the USF lunch truck – 80 percent – aren’t homeless yet, just precariously housed, hanging on by a thread.

TGM has seen a similar increase. The non-profit’s nightly “meal ministry” – offering dinner to low-income and homeless individuals – can draw as many as 75 a night.

While demand is up, local non-profits’ ability to serve the homeless is down. All sorts of funding have dried up – public and private donations alike chief among them.

“There are less people able to give, and they have less to give,” Bawanan said.

Each year, the Salvation Army gives out Thanksgiving food baskets. Those baskets only contain turkeys if the public donates them.

“Everything is on an ‘if’ basis,” said Major Debi Shrum of the Turlock Salvation Army. “It all depends on donations.”

It’s not just donations, though. Non-profits rely on grants, which have shrunk over the years as state and federal revenues have fallen. Local non-profits are still awaiting this year’s Community Development Block Grant allocation, and Emergency Food and Shelter Program funding.

It’s a vicious cycle, those working to help the homeless explained. As fewer people work, tax revenues fall, and grants are cut, reducing the services available as the number of needy increase. Doing their jobs becomes harder as well, as the chief goal of homeless non-profits – turning the homeless into employed, productive members of society – is neigh impossible with nary a job to be found.

If there’s a bright spot in the current situation, homeless workers say, it’s that Turlockers have become more in-touch with the homeless. The homeless are no longer some foreign entity in this recessionary era – they oftentimes are friends and neighbors.

“Everybody has been touched by it,” We Care Program Executive Director Jan Tucker said.


Despite the challenges, local service providers are moving forward to address the homeless’ needs.

The We Care Program, Turlock’s cold weather shelter for men, is adding four beds, growing from 34 to 38 beds. The shelter also will add a small computer lab to help in job hunting.

The shelter will open Dec. 1 and close March 31, 2012.

“If we had the money, we would open earlier,” said We Care Program Treasurer Maris Sturtevant.

We Care’s counterpart on the women and children side of winter sheltering, Turlock Gospel Mission, will open its doors on Nov. 20. That’s a week later than last year.

Both are in need of donations, ranging from socks to toiletries, blankets, sheets, and the always-appreciated money. We Care also needs volunteer families or organizations to purchase, prepare, and serve dinner for the homeless guests each night; a calendar viewable on shows available dates.

Both shelters are also expanding their offerings.

Turlock Gospel Mission will soon launch a Homeless Assistance Ministry at 1030 East Ave., the site of Turlock’s Youth Center, giving the homeless a place to stay during the day for the first time. The site will offer myriad services to the homeless, from job hunt help to drug and alcohol treatment.

We Care Program, thanks to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant, will launch three transitional housing units soon.

Turlock Gospel Mission is also hard at work on the long-time dream of local service providers – a year-round permanent shelter. The non-profit is in negotiations to purchase a warehouse near the intersection of First and D streets to turn into a shelter, though a $75,000 down payment is needed by the end of November.

Eventually, the site could be home to a homeless campus, of sorts, bringing together providers from across the county.

“We're working hard on making that become a reality,” Turlock Gospel Mission Executive Director Jeff Woods said.

The need for shelters is illustrated by the successes even Turlock’s short-term, winter only, evening-only shelters have seen. According to We Care, 85 percent of the formerly homeless population they have served have remained housed, able to sustain incomes and reintegrate into society.

“I've seen the difference the housing makes,” Woods said. “It's been a tremendous boost for our folks.”


There are still other challenges. The emergency family hotel voucher program formerly sponsored by the City of Turlock has been dropped this year, due to the state’s move to eliminate Redevelopment Agencies; the program was previously funded with RDA dollars.

But other opportunities exist as well, as the city prepares to break ground on the new Avena Bella low-income apartment complex. The development, planned for 500 W. Linwood Ave., will fill a much-needed gap in Turlock’s housing options, said Turlock Housing Program Manager Maryn Pitt.

“You don't become successful when there are big gaps in that stair-stepping stratum, and that's what we've had,” Pitt said.

While work remains to help Turlock’s homeless, much is being done, City Manager Roy Wasden said. And with the help of local volunteers and donations, Turlock’s homeless providers will be able to do even more, he said.

“We always hear what we don't do,” Wasden said. “These are the things that are being done.

“If people want to help, if they want to make a donation, if they want to volunteer, these are the programs they can become involved with.”

We Care Foundation can be contacted at

Turlock Gospel Mission can be contacted at 668-9848.

The Salvation Army can be contacted at 557-3600.

United Samaritans Foundation can be contacted at 668-4853.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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