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City taps LHE chief to tackle homelessness
In March 2021, the city declared a local emergency in response to the increase of individuals experiencing homelessness (Journal file photo).

Nearly two years after declaring homelessness an emergency in Turlock, the city council is taking a new direction in trying to solve the public crisis.

The city voted unanimously earlier this month to enter into a partnership with Legacy Health Endowment to implement a multi-pronged approach that will coordinate resources and bring various government, private and non-profit organizations to the table. 

In March 2021, the city declared a local emergency in response to the increase of individuals experiencing homelessness here. Since that time, however, the city’s response has been mixed, according to Councilmember Rebecka Monez.

“We need to show the public what’s working and what’s not working,” said Monez, who represents District 2. “These are really unchartered waters. It’s a public undertaking that is so massive. And for so many cities, not just Turlock. This is everywhere.”

Legacy Health Endowment, a nonprofit health organization that came into existence after the sale of Emanuel Medical Center to Tenet Healthcare Corp. in 2014, is led by president and CEO Jeffrey Lewis.

Lewis came to LHE in 2016 having worked on Capitol Hill for four U.S. Senators — three full-time and one part-time. It’s his political savvy, as well as his organizational skills, that the city hopes to tap into.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Monez. “This partnership is going to bring transparency to our nonprofits and it’s going to bring our nonprofits together, instead of competing for the same funds.”

Lewis, who through LHE prepared an extensive report on homelessness in 2019, has maintained that too many Turlock agencies have been pulling in different directions.

“I think the most important aspect of this challenge is two words: facing forward,” said Lewis. “It’s time for us, as a community, to face forward and take on the task of assisting the city council to build a strategic initiative to address the unsheltered population and the almost-unsheltered population. You can’t talk about one with the other, and most people don’t.”

Lewis hopes to address the crisis on multiple levels:

·    -     Bringing nonprofits together to formulate a cohesive strategy;

·    -     Utilizing a mobile behavioral health care unit — in conjunction with Community Health Centers of America (the council also voted to release $450,000 in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to go toward mobile care);

·    -     Bolstering day-shelter programs so the unsheltered have a place to go when overnight shelters close in the morning;

·    -     Addressing the need for temporary housing that would offer drug/alcohol rehabilitation and job training; and

·    -     Creating a centralized kitchen that would be of use to all nonprofit agencies and eventually become a centralized food bank (Lewis outlines his plan in further detail in an editorial on Page A5).

Monez and Councilmember Pam Franco were appointed in June 2021 to an ad hoc committee on homelessness by Mayor Amy Bublak. They revealed their recommendations for addressing homelessness in February of this year.

“This all came about based on discussions I had with city councilmembers Monez and Franco,” said Lewis. “They delivered a great report and it’s a great first step. I told them I would love to help them take this beyond the paper stage.

“People are at the point now where they want solutions and, to me, it took great courage by the city manager (Reagan Wilson), city attorney (George Petrulakis) and the city council to allow an outside entity to take this on. You know me, I don’t wear handcuffs. I’ll be honest: here’s what’s working and why. A dose of that could be a real positive.”

Editor’s note — Staff writer Joe Cortez was formerly employed by Legacy Health Endowment and Community Health Centers of America.