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HAM fills gap in daytime homeless services
Mission looks to future with year-round shelter
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Turlock’s new daytime homeless center has been an unmitigated success in its first month, but its operators are already looking ahead to a future of more services.

Since the center’s Feb. 27 opening, the Turlock Gospel Mission’s Homeless Assistance Ministry has served more than 1,000 guests, but a proposed comprehensive, year-round shelter could help many more.

“This is kind of a stepping stone for us,” said John Riedel, a caseworker at the HAM.

The day center, located at 1030 East Ave.  –  the former site of the Turlock Youth Center – offers the homeless a safe place to go during the day. Before, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, the between 40 and 60 transients who visit the center would have been out on the streets.

The HAM isn’t fancy – it offers a modest kitchen, good only for coffee and breakfast snacks. There are a few couches, some board games, a small library, and a few computers for job hunting and skill training.

But, most importantly for its homeless patrons, the HAM offers a preponderance of services. The homeless can find bus tickets or a part-time job, make arrangements for drug rehab, or grab a ride to a faraway appointment.

“We do everything from haircuts to housing,” Riedel said.

The center never would have been possible without an outpouring of assistance, said Turlock Gospel Mission Director Tim Guerino. More than 175 different individuals contributed.

Costco donated couches and coffee. Wendy’s donated tables. The center’s library was an Eagle Scout project.

And the City of Turlock was a major help as well, Guerino said, assisting TGM every step of the way.

The most important help, though, comes from the homeless guests themselves, Guerino said.

“They do not sit here all day and do nothing,” he said. “… The key is they’re taking ownership.”

Those guests keep things running at the HAM, serving as volunteers. They paint walls and resurface cabinets. They even open the door for visitors.

Guerino is enthused at the effect the day center has had in just one short month, but sees even more opportunity in a neglected parcel at the corner of Broadway and D Street. Right now, the parcel houses just a worn-down warehouse and some open ground, but before too long it may become a one-stop, year-round center for Turlock’s homeless.

An in-development 20-year master plan sees the site beginning with a sleeping area and dining room, allowing Turlock to host its first year-round shelter; current shelters only provide housing in winter months.

Eventually, the plan calls for an entire campus with multiple buildings and a full spectrum of homeless assistance programs. The site would offer everything from day services to transitional housing.

“We’re close to being able to finalize this master plan,” said James Shade, plan architect. “… From here on, it’s down to how fast they can raise money.”

The Turlock Gospel Mission still owes $350,000 on the property, having paid off $150,000 of the $500,000 purchase price.

To that end, the TGM expects to hold a benefit concert in November, starring 1960’s musician Barry McGuire. A member of the New York Giants is tabbed to host a benefit in January 2014.

Golf tournaments, restaurant partnerships, and other ventures will follow in the mission’s push to generate $500,000 this year.

That shelter is the endgame, and the Turlock Gospel Mission is “laser-focused” on making it happen, Guerino said. But, for now, the community is being well served by its new homeless day center, Guerino said.

“The lives that we’re changing now… It’s been great,” Guerino said. “It’s making a huge difference. This makes a huge difference.”

The Turlock Gospel Mission is in need of many supplies, ranging from coffee and creamer to bus passes, toilet paper, cleaning products, computers, and additional funding.

To contact Turlock Gospel Mission, or make a donation, call 668-9846 or 656-1033.