Turlock could soon be home to a new transitional housing project for homeless families, homeless veterans and senior citizens, following action by the Turlock City Council on Tuesday.
“It’s a difficult issue to deal with,” said Turlock City Manager Reagan Wilson about the City’s homelessness issue. “Just from a statistically perspective, in the last (homeless) Point-In-Time Count I think there were 221 homeless persons counted in the city of Turlock…Turlock actually has 129 overnight shelter beds between the Turlock Gospel Mission and the We Care program — the gospel mission has 80 and We Care has 49. That means there’s about 90 homeless who don’t have a place to sleep every night in the city. So, what do they do? They camp in our parks and our police department has limited ability to move the campers along because of some 20 odd federal court decisions that have come down protecting the rights of people under the First Amendment.”
The proposed transitional housing facility will provide 45 studio apartments and five one-bedroom apartments — or as many one and two-bedroom apartments as the city decided were needed — on 2.5 acres of City-owned land located at 701 S. Walnut Rd. According to City staff, that location was chosen because it is close to retail and food sources, has existing transit services and is further than 2,500 feet of a school.
Following a Request for Proposals, the City selected Custom Containers 915 to partner with to develop the transitional housing project.
Custom Containers 915 has estimated the development expenses of the project as $9,952,500 and annual operating expenses as $588,500.
These costs do not include the land. The City will contribute the land through a long-term, low cost land lease or other terms negotiated with the developer.
The City plans to apply for state housing funds under Homekey to finance the development and pursue tenant-based Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) vouchers in order to fund the operating cost of the project.
The City has until April 30 to apply for the Homekey funds from the state.
The 40 feet by 8 feet containers can be made into either two studio apartments with their own bathroom, living/sleeping area and kitchenette or used as a one-bedroom apartment. Multiple units can be put together to create two-bedroom or more apartments.
“The best thing is that each person would have their own address, which is real important, they can’t get jobs unless they have an address,” said John Glavin, CEO of Custom Containers 915.
Glavin said that the 2.5 acre site is enough to allow for a more “park-like” setting with green areas and benches.
It’s not just housing. To qualify for the state funds, the City will have to provide support services.
“The plan is to secure services through the County, which provides social services — drug and alcohol and mental health counseling; which provides job training and provides housing assistance. In addition, we also have our own housing assistance program,” said Wilson.
Custom Containers 915 will own the development and will contract with a local housing and/or homeless service organization to provide on-site management. They also will set up 24 hour security for the facility, according to Glavin.
The project wasn’t well received by all.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea for a proposal of a homeless camp near my business. We fought this 15 years ago. I don’t know who’s going to secure (the site). Are there going to be enough officers running back and forth helping you guys? I’ve had 30 or 40 homeless on that property already who have stolen from me for 20 days straight. Out of 30 days, they’ve stolen probably 20 days. Somebody’s going to get hurt; either I am or the homeless. I think it’s a bad idea,” said Don Kelso, owner of Kelso’s Auto Dismantling & Towing, which is located near to the proposed transitional housing site.
Other citizens were opposed to the City spending $10 million on the project and the discrepancy of price of square footage for the containers ($1,100) compared to the average price of Turlock real estate per square foot ($300). And one woman said that building the facility would attract more homeless to the city.
Dan Madden, former Turlock Municipal Services Director, spoke during public comment and gave some history of the proposed facility site.
“That 19 acre block of property the City purchased in early 2000… that property was purchased with enterprise funds specific for, at the time, future expansion for water, sewer and storm related functions,” said Madden.
Madden said that the along with future uses for the water and sewer plants, over the years the property has also been discussed being used to house police and fire training and a possible widening of Walnut Road could affect the site. He suggested making sure that the project doesn’t limit the City’s ability to use the property in the long term.
Following questions from the public, city attorney George Petrulakis clarified who the housing program would service.
“This isn’t emergency shelter; it’s transitional housing. It’s kind of the next step up and it’s something staff has heard over and over from the community that the community wants which is people have signed an agreement and committed to certain standards of conduct because they’ve made a decision that they want to turn their life around,” said Petrulakis. “…In Turlock, we don’t have a robust enough transitional housing units so people who should be in transitional housing are still in emergency shelters, which isn’t ideal because they don’t have all the supportive services we’re talking about.”
He said that the container homes would be for the local chronically homeless population and would free up beds in the emergency shelters for those who are temporarily without a place to live. Petrulakis said with the recent court rulings, making sure Turlock has enough beds for homeless individuals allows police to better enforcement camping laws.
“This is a great conversation. It’s a long overdue conservation…it’s not a new conservation. Every time the issue arises there’s a battle between the community, between elected officials, etc. and people refuse to make a decision. You have the opportunity tonight to make a decision. It’s not an easy decision but it’s about leadership. We have 107 families in Turlock Unified School District who are homeless…they could benefit from this housing if they were allowed to do so. The underlining issue tonight is, what do we do and when do we do it?” said Jeffrey Lewis, CEO of Legacy Health Endowment.
The majority of Council members agreed with community members that the cost was too high for this project and they were not comfortable with the stipulations Homekey would put on the project in accepting tenants.
“I want to make sure that if we have this — which we need this…that we’re making the biggest impact for the population that we have,” said Council member Cassandra Abram.
“I can’t justify this kind of price tag. I know we have to do something, but I personally feel like I have a gun to my head because we have to get this done by the end of April. I’m not going to waste $10 million of taxpayer money because we’ve got a gun to our head,” said Council member Bixle.
Mayor Amy Bublak and Council member Rebecka Monez were the only supporters of the project on the dais, until Council member Abram changed her mind with the assurance that the city could determine who would be able to apply for the units.
“My feeling is the community has told us and over told us to do something…We can still make an effort. This money is not something I enjoy spending. I believe we did nothing for many years and we have no proof of anything. Here’s something…we can help the single moms, help the veterans — there’s a man out here every day, he’s a veteran. He’s not on drugs, he’s not on alcohol. He shouldn’t still be staying on the street. That man should be able to move on. There’s something wrong with what we’re doing. I don’t want to spend taxpayers’ money, but this is what the feds and the state are putting there. And they’ll just take it and put it somewhere else. If we can help somebody, physically help our young families, some seniors and some veterans, I’m good,” said Bublak.
“Somebody has to bite the bullet. Somebody’s got to stand up…and be a leader and say ‘we’re going to make a decision and do something.’ And at the end of the day, what it’s really about is no of us get to stand here and judge the homeless people ahead of time and say ‘they don’t want to come in and get help’ because none of us have walked one mile in their shoes. If somebody wants help and they want a place to live, they need to have the opportunity and we need to be providing it to them,” said Monez.
The Council voted to move forward with the project with a vote of 3-2, with Bixle and Vice Mayor Pam Franco opposing.