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City approves projects at homeless shelters, new storage facility
The Journal asked Turlock mayoral and city council candidates to weigh in on how they think the City of Turlock should address homelessness (Journal file photo).

The Turlock City Council voted Tuesday to accept Homeless Emergency Aid Program grant funds for the use in three projects, including one to store homeless individuals’ property in downtown Turlock, which drew the ire of some community members.

H.E.A.P. was signed into law by then Gov. Jerry Brown in June 2018 and opens up a $500 million block grant to provide direct assistance to cities and counties to help with homelessness. The state required the declaration of a shelter crisis for entities to access the funds and the declaration had to be made by Dec. 31, 2018. The funding is based on population and the 2017 point in time homeless count.

It is allocated to Continuums of Care across the state, with Stanislaus County getting approximately $7.2 million in funding. The Stanislaus Community System of Care has decided $5 million goes to capital improvements, which can include improvements to existing shelters and facilities, transitional housing, and capacity building, but does not include building new shelters. Cities and counties that declare a shelter crisis are not required to build a new shelter. Modesto got the lion’s share of this pot of money at $4 million.

Another $1 million was set aside for homeless youth outreach and services, and then $500,000 each for outreach and navigation services, and emergency needs, like rent subsidies or motel vouchers. Turlock’s share of the grant amounted to $585,000.

H.E.A.P. funds have to be used for services, capital construction costs, or housing subsidies that will benefit homeless individuals. It cannot be used as operating reserves or for enforcement or encampment activities. At least half of the money must be spent or contractually obligated by January and the second half by June 2021.

The City had planned to use some of the funds to rehabilitate the Shasta Motel into a shelter for homeless veterans, but a feasibility study revealed the motel was too deteriorated and would have to be completely torn down. It also was discovered the parcel does not have city water and sewer services.

In place of the Shasta Motel project, the City proposed three separate projects: Rebuild the kitchen and dining facilities at We Care; rehabilitate the Turlock Gospel Mission’s day center; and create a storage facility for homeless individuals to keep some of their personal property.

The We Care project, which was approved 5-0, will use $240,000 to demolish and rebuild the kitchen and dining areas. It will include a community room equipped with fire sprinklers and other safety requirements, which once installed, will allow We Care to use the space for overflow shelter beds when necessary and has a training area when not needed as a shelter.

The second project will use $240,000 to update TGM’s day center. The work will include roof repairs, rehabilitating the bathrooms and the kitchen, and installing the necessary equipment to allow TGM to use the entire day center as an overflow shelter when needed. The project was passed 5-0.

“The remodel of the day center will also address some of the issues the subcommittees had with bathrooms and having more people inside and not in downtown,” said TGM Executive Director Christian Curby during the meeting.

Both of these projects will add between 30 to 40 beds to the current shelter bed count of 112 in Turlock.

The remaining $105,000 will be used to start a pilot project similar to one operating in Southern California. The plan is to use a City owned property in downtown Turlock and use it as a storage facility for homeless individuals to use. The City had in mind an old city owned building a block from City Hall, however, Pitt said the location of the storage facility is “not etched in stone.” She said the City has pledged to work with the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association on where it would ultimately go. Wherever the facility ends up being located, it will include bathroom facilities and the City would contract a nonprofit group to run it.

The need for a storage facility was brought up numerous times during the subcommittee meetings hosted by the City throughout the year on the issue of homelessness.

“It would allow us in essence to reduce the presence of personal items that are stored in a myriad of containers and rolling wagons, baby stroller and the like, and that are parked,” said Maryn Pitt, Assistant to the City Manager for Economic Development and Housing.

Having a storage facility might have the added benefit of helping some homeless individuals access services that they might not otherwise use because they were afraid they would lose their possessions if parked outside while they were in a building, Pitt explained. It will also have a positive impact on the community by “reducing the unsightliness,” she said.

A similar program in Orange County has found success, partially because it is located near transportation and services, which is why the City is looking at a downtown location, Pitt said.

Some downtown business and community members were upset that the storage facility could expand the footprint of homeless services offered to individuals beyond the couple of blocks on S. Broadway. TDPOA Executive Director Molly Amant pointed out that the Orange County program uses shipping containers and suggested a better option for Turlock might be shipping containers kept at TGM’s property.

The project was passed 3-2, with Mayor Amy Bublak and Councilman Andrew Nosrati voting no and Council members Gil Esquer, Becky Arellano and Nicole Larson voting yes.