Tim Guerino knows that the model works.
If you give the homeless a place to go during the day and provide them with the resources that they need to get off of the street, the odds that they’re going to have success in finding a job or a suitable place to live increases substantially.
But it just takes a city willing to employ the tactics necessary to make it all possible.
And that means teamwork – the kind of teamwork that no city outside of Turlock has been able to employ in the three years since the community put together a unique program that gives those needing a helping hand somewhere that they can go not just to sleep, but to spend their days constructively taking the steps to improve their situation.
“We’ve had a ton of cities come and look at what it is that we’ve done, but none have been able to copy it because it takes a high level of coordination and cooperation – it’s faith-based organizations and government entities working together,” said Guerino – the executive director of the Turlock Gospel Mission. “We don’t get a dime of government money and yet we work hand-in-hand with a lot of government departments and that’s what has made this so successful.
“If you were to look at the panhandlers that you see on the streets of Turlock, 99 percent of them are from Modesto and most of them are professionals. Many of them are drug addicts and a lot of them have warrants. We work with the police department – we’ll go out to them and let them know that we’re there to help, but that if they have warrants they probably want to move along because the police are on their way. This is about helping those who want it, and not just those that are looking for an easy handout.”
Same problem seen across Valley
Just up Hwy. 99 in Manteca, city officials are facing similar problems with people on the streets.
With pressure from the community, the Manteca Police Department has recently been forced to roust the homeless from places like Library Park and the Historical Plaza at Spreckels Park – displacing upwards of 50 people that would otherwise be concentrated in a single area.
That means all of those people are suddenly out prowling the streets of Manteca. Some pushing shopping carts and some ride bikes with trailers attached carrying recyclables.
The same scenario played itself out in Turlock, Guerino said. The idea to open the day center cropped up when he was hired as a consultant, having had experience concocting a similar plan in Syracuse, New York, when he was working upstate full-time as a pastor.
Now he oversees the entire program. He has turned it into the hub for those searching for services in that section of Stanislaus County. It’s a place where people can check in with probation and parole agents instead of worrying about whether they’re going to be able to keep a steady and solid address with the family member they might be staying at or the motel serving as a temporary crash pad. Law enforcement entities, he said, appreciate having a place where they know they can meet with the people that they’re looking for, and outreach ministries and groups have a centralized location to provide for those who need it.
It’s the little things, Guerino said, that most people don’t realize play a vital role in preventing most people from getting back on their feet.
ID card critical for homeless to get jobs
Something as small as a California ID card, something most people take for granted, can be the difference between getting a job and getting turned down. Obtaining one requires both a Social Security card and a birth certificate, and neither are things that the homeless carry around with them when they’re out on the street.
“We’ve been able to outfit hundreds of people with ID cards since we started the program,” he said. “It’s such an important part of the process. We’re seeing anywhere from 50 to 80 people every day, and we’re doing intake and setting them up with case managers and helping them take the simple steps needed to make their situation better.
“If they need drug or alcohol treatment we work to help them with that, and if they need mental health services – something that’s lacking so much – we try to get them setup with that as well. There’s no place for the mentally ill to go and those people end up becoming the chronically homeless and that’s where you end up seeing a lot of the problems on the street. Those are the people we want to help. That’s who we want to reach.”
The Turlock Gospel Mission Homeless Assistance Ministry is located at 1030 East Ave. in Turlock, and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year. The organization is in the process of working with another local group to provide beds for both homeless single men and women with children. For additional information visit www.turlockgospelmission.org or call 209.656.1033.