As the City of Turlock attempts to tackle its downtown vagrancy problem, Stanislaus County has implemented a strategic plan just down the road that could soon help solve the issue.
Stanislaus County recently partnered with the City of Modesto to create the Community Assessment Response and Engagement, or CARE, team to focus on distressed individuals in the town who may be homeless because of unrelenting mental illness or substance abuse disorders. The collaboration between the two agencies and over 50 public and private sector leaders was approved by the Board of Supervisors on June 26 and will be implemented in Modesto beginning Aug. 1.
“We knew that we needed to challenge ourselves to come up with something else to support those individuals that otherwise would not be served through all of these broad system developments,” Stanislaus County Chief Executive Officer Jody Hayes said. “We can create the best homeless programs, the best substance abuse programs, the best behavioral health treatment programs and there is a certain portion of the population that is not going to engage in those programs. They happen to be the ones that are probably most visible in the community.”
There are about 1,600 homeless people living in Stanislaus County, with 74 percent (1,200) residing in Modesto. The program will focus on homeless or transient individuals who frequently tie up public safety services, Supervisor Vito Chiesa said — specifically, 143 “high users” identified through a survey of police officers and arrest data who could benefit from the program.
There are a lot of angry people at the Turlock City Council meetings. You can get as angry as you want, you can change the park hours and put them in jail, but if it’s not a coordinated effort then we’re not going to be successful. In Modesto, finally everyone decided to get into one room and work together instead of all blaming each other.County Supervisor Vito Chiesa
According to Chiesa, 27 of those individuals have had 456 interactions with police in the last three years alone, and one person suffering from mental illness had been arrested 70 times over the last five years.
“If you think about the resources that are used to deal with that…we’re not running long on police and fire services, so every interaction is taking the place of something else they could be doing,” Chiesa said. “We’re trying to target the most distressed in our community with what we consider a ‘fast pass’ to the front of the drug and alcohol beds.”
Anticipated to cost $2 million annually, the CARE team consists of a deputy district attorney, public defender, mental health practitioner, public health nurse, social services case manager, a probation officer and supervisor. Daily outreach by the team in downtown parks and the city’s downtown core, as well as other areas heavy with transient traffic like McHenry Avenue, will attempt to form relationships with the homeless and develop intervention plans, connecting them with treatment, housing or other services.
If an individual rejects treatment or checks out before their rehabilitation time is up, they could go to jail, Chiesa said.
“There’s a real opportunity for them to get themselves clean, but if they choose the path back into that life then there are going to be real consequences,” he said.
As Modesto works with the County to solve its homelessness problem, the City of Turlock has been involved with several community meetings throughout the past several months, including an emergency City Council meeting last week where a crowd of over 100 people gathered to voice their concerns.
Business and property owners alike in downtown Turlock say their locations are plagued by drug use, property damage, vandalism and more from they city’s transients on an almost nightly basis, and during the day, potential customers are hesitant to walk into stores as vagrants loiter on Main Street. In response, the Council on Tuesday adopted two measures proposed by Mayor Gary Soiseth aimed at stemming the flow of downtown vagrancy.
With the adoption of the measures, all parks in Turlock will now be open from 7 a.m. to dusk (a modification to Soiseth’s proposal of just the downtown parks), as opposed to their former hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and LED lighting will be installed throughout Turlock’s three downtown parks.
Chiesa said that though the County has partnered with Modesto first, the CARE program was set up to be replicable and the County intends to expand the effort throughout the community as the service model becomes operational. Turlock is home to the next-biggest homeless population in the County, with 15 percent of the total homeless population residing in the city.
For the program to eventually work in Turlock, however, teamwork is needed.
“There are a lot of angry people at the Turlock City Council meetings. You can get as angry as you want, you can change the park hours and put them in jail, but if it’s not a coordinated effort then we’re not going to be successful,” Chiesa said. “In Modesto, finally everyone decided to get into one room and work together instead of all blaming each other.”
Within the next few months, Chiesa anticipates that the CARE program will be successful in Modesto and soon be presented as an option for Turlock.
“We can’t demand from each other — we have to work hand in hand,” Chiesa said. “We’ll offer the Turlock City Council (the program), but they’re the ones who are going to have to buy in. They have to believe in it.”