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City looks to utilize homeless funding
Avena Bella
Construction is expected to begin in September on Phase Two of the Avena Bella low-income apartment complex, which will add an additional 60 units (Journal file photo).

City of Turlock staff and Council members alike have been hard at work looking for solutions to the ongoing homeless crisis in town, consulting community stakeholders, holding public meetings and even putting forth policy recommendations. On Tuesday the City Council received an update on what progress has been made so far and future action the City hopes to take.

Assistant to the City Manager for Economic Development and Housing Maryn Pitt gave a progress report during this week’s City Council meeting, summarizing the efforts of their homeless workgroups to date.

The homeless ad hoc committees were formed over a year ago following public outrage over downtown Turlock’s plague of drug use, property damage, vandalism and more last May. The four workgroups (Housing & Bathrooms, Business, Community Engagement and Jobs/Prevention) are meant to address the myriad of problems that homelessness causes and have met several times since first being formed.

The last official count tallied 247 homeless people living on Turlock’s streets, Pitt explained, who could benefit from state funding received by Stanislaus County. Over the course of the next year, the City of Turlock aims to utilize various funding in order to strengthen five core strategies: outreach and engagement, coordinated access, creation and access to housing, supportive services and strengthening the system of care.

transitional housing
The City of Turlock recently “flipped” this eight-unit complex on A Street, and will partner with the United Samaritans Foundation to provide transitional housing for homeless and low-income families (Journal file photo).

“It’s definitely not a ‘wave the magic wand and it happens’ thing,” Pitt said. “There’s a whole business side to it.”

Thanks to No Place Like Home funding, Stanislaus County received state funds to build permanent supportive housing with services for the mentally ill homeless population. Turlock will add 14 new NPLH units in town this year.

The City recently partnered with the United Samaritans Foundation to offer a rehabilitated, eight-unit complex across from City Hall on A Street as a form of transitional housing, and the vacant lot on the corner of East Canal Drive and North Palm Street will soon be the construction site of another three homes. Across town on Park Street the City has purchased a family home with an attached triplex as another form of NPLH units.

“This is a step above transitional housing. It’s a housing unit with services that wrap around them relative to what their diagnosis is,” Pitt said. “This helps them become a fruitful and whole person contributing to society.”

Stanislaus County received just over $1 million in Community Emergency Shelter and Housing funds during FY 2018-2019 to help fight homelessness, which can be used to help pay for services like an access center — something Pitt said the City is considering examining — or even flex funding to help low-income families pay for housing deposits.

The County also received $7.2 million in Homeless Emergency Assistance Program funding — one-time funds from which Turlock will receive $500,000. Pitt said the City looked at utilizing this money by converting an old hotel in town into transitional housing for veterans, but backtracked after being told the cost would outweigh the value of such a project.

Now it’s back to the drawing board, Pitt said, and City staff is looking for feedback as to what is most needed in town. Most recently, Pitt said the City has been in talks with Modesto service provider Family Promise to see if opening a center in Turlock would be in everyone’s best interest. The City doesn’t have enough emergency shelter beds for the homeless community, Pitt added.

“We’re trying to figure out what would work best and then try and leverage dollars and see what we can do,” Pitt said. “We’re the second-largest city, so it’s one of those things where we have to step up, basically, and ask for what we need and figure out how to collaborate with other providers and agencies to get it done.”

One area in the housing column that will make small, yet meaningful progress within the next year is affordable housing. Construction is expected to begin in September on Phase Two of the Avena Bella apartment complex, which will add an additional 60 units. The project is made possible through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, allowing families who earn 60 percent or less of the city’s median income to live there at an affordable rate.

There are currently 500 families on the waiting list for the 60 units, Pitt said.

Moving forward, City staff will look at potential housing projects, as well as funding to pay for their development and operation costs. Staff also plans on developing a strategy for a short-term emergency shelter, as well as examining more public restrooms for the homeless population, additional shelter beds, enhanced outreach and engagement and the feasibility of a local access center.