The Stanislaus County Fairgrounds will continue to be available as an emergency homeless shelter after the City Council on Tuesday approved an agreement with the Turlock Gospel Mission which will pay to rent the space until September of next year.
The 200-bed emergency overflow shelter was never opened during the City’s first local emergency for the unsheltered homeless encampment crisis, which was ratified by Council in March and concluded in July. While camps throughout town were successfully disbanded by public safety officials, the extra beds were not utilized and even beds at the Gospel Mission and We Care Program still remain available at night to this day.
With unhoused individuals still on the street despite the efforts of the first emergency, the City Council ratified a second local emergency on July 13 which shifted the focus to helping those who remained homeless by re-appropriating unspent funds from the original proclamation to be used on the issue moving forward.
During their meeting this week, the Council voted to approve a contract which would utilize some of those funds by reimbursing the Gospel Mission for rental of the fairgrounds for an emergency overflow shelter and any additional costs should the overflow space need to open.
The agreement secures the fairgrounds as an overflow shelter, should it become necessary, until Sept. 1, 2022. At a rate of $1,000 per month, the cost of rent through that date totals $12,000 and is funded through the City’s unsheltered homeless crisis local emergency budget.
According to Turlock Police Captain Steve Williams, the emergency overflow shelter was never used from March to July because other shelters in town still had available beds. On Tuesday, he informed the Council that We Care continues to have 10 to 15 beds available each evening, while the Gospel Mission has 40 to 50 beds available regularly.
Still, City Attorney George Petrulakis told the Council the agreement is “an important part of the legal strategy involved” in whatever long-term plan the homelessness ad hoc committee, spearheaded by Vice Mayor Pam Franco and Councilmember Rebecka Monez, comes up with to address the unhoused issue.
In an email to the Journal, Petrulakis said the agreement with the Gospel mission is important during the local emergency so that the City is able to ensure there is enough capacity for homeless persons while the planning effort on the long-term approach is underway. The agreement provides not only the possible use of the fairgrounds, but also additional capacity at the Gospel Mission than they had prior to the emergency declaration.
"The City is fortunate to have great civic partners like the TGM and the fairgrounds to step forward on this matter," Petrulakis said. "Despite having empty beds each evening at the established shelters, a City should want additional capacity as insurance against a surge in demand or a change in circumstances, such as an epidemic, which might cut down on the number of beds that could be used in established shelters. That is what the fairgrounds option provides."