Out with the youth, in with the homeless.
Turlock’s Youth Center will become the city’s first homeless day center, following a 4-1 council decision Tuesday night.
“The council’s been talking about it for two to three years,” said Councilmember Forrest White. “It's time to get off our you-know-what’s and do something.”
The center, to be operated by local non-profit Turlock Gospel Mission, will be open seven days a week year-round, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. In addition to providing a “full spectrum” of support services – from substance abuse treatment to job hunt help – the center will provide homeless people a much needed place to go during the day. Turlock currently has only evening shelters, operating only in winter months.
As the site will provide the homeless with a place to be during the day, it will also allow Turlock Police to enforce loitering laws if the agency so chooses. Previously, the homeless could not be prohibited from loitering during the day as it was a crime of necessity.
The agreement calls for TGM to lease the facility for 24 months, at a rate of $1,080 per month. Some of that rent may be offset as TGM performs upgrades to the building and landscaping.
Turlock will assume no liability, either for the use of the site or any damage to the site caused by TGM or its guests.
“We believe it is an appropriate lease agreement,” said City Manager Roy Wasden.
Youth or homeless?
Vice Mayor Amy Bublak cast the lone vote against the development. She argued that the city should not be directly involved in addressing homelessness and that both council and the neighborhood should have been given more advance notice
Ann Strahm, a homeowner on S. Minaret Avenue, said that she had not been contacted – and was concerned about the lack of contact – but nevertheless supported the development wholeheartedly. She was the only neighbor to comment, though TGM staff said they canvassed the neighborhood and responses were positive.
“I absolutely, proudly support this center,” Strahm said. “I am thrilled to be living in a community where we are going to have this facility to help people help people.”
Bublak attempted to delay the vote until Dec. 13, allowing community members more time to respond, but her motion failed for lack of a second.
Bublak also had concerns that the site may be unfit for the development, leading to an impromptu poll of constituents, asking if they would prefer putting the building to use to reflect its name – as a youth center – or instead allowing the homeless day center. Each person surveyed wanted the youth center, she said.
“I think this is a wonderful idea, but I think that perhaps we need to find another location that doesn’t displace youth,” Bublak said.
Currently, the site is rarely used for its once-intended purpose. The Youth Center hosts just one dance class, which will be relocated to the War Memorial.
“The Youth Center is a name,” White said. “Let's rename the War Memorial the Youth Center then...call it what you want, it’s the least used building.”
Councilwoman Mary Jackson reiterated her commitment to a true youth center for the City of Turlock, stating she would work to find grant money to make that development a reality.
Councilman Bill DeHart, who ultimately voted in favor of the project, also had concerns – lack of a bus stop, and some potentially precarious walkways to the site – but had those fears allayed. A bus stop could be added if demand is sufficient, Development Services Director Mike Pitcock said, and TGM staff said they would encourage guests to take safe walking routes.
Site said to fill gap
The development was initially considered for Turlock’s War Memorial building – a plan quickly scrapped due to heavy usage of the Canal Drive facility. At the suggestion of White, a former Turlock Recreation supervisor in the 1970s, city staff turned their vision toward Turlock’s Youth Center, a seldom-used building at the intersection of East and Minaret avenues.
Once a site was identified, Wasden contacted the Homeless Action Committee, a coalition of homeless service providers, business groups, and the city, to seek out a lessee.
“The city came and said, ‘We have no money. Is there anyone willing to do anything?’” explained TGM Executive Director Jeff Woods.
TGM stepped up, despite an anticipated $44,000 needed for startup – some of that still unidentified, though planners hope to open the site by Dec. 1. Renovations range from heating improvements to secured bike lockers, structural work and a security system.
Once open, the site will offer services for at-risk and low-income individuals as well, Woods said, with both on-site services and referrals available.
“I think it's a great opportunity to work with the City of Turlock to address a problem that is growing in Turlock,” said TGM Board Chair Chris Kiriakou. “The number of people that are on the edge that need assistance is growing.”
Planners are excited to see how the new facility – allowing for 24-hour care for the first time in Turlock – affects the homeless population. But TGM officials admit the center will be just part of the solution to a seemingly incurable problem.
“No matter what we do, it’s not going to take everybody off the streets,” Woods said.
Check back with the Journal on Saturday for a comprehensive look at how Turlock is addressing the homeless situation, as well as information about services available for the needy.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.