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Facing forward: Addressing the needs of Turlock residents and homelessness
Jeffrey R. Lewis

On June 1, 2016, Legacy Health Endowment (LHE) began its work. From the beginning, I aimed to create, develop, and support programs to address healthcare broadly defined. I am proud of what we have accomplished so far.

As part of the next phase of our work, we are joining the City of Turlock in tackling the challenges of homelessness and reminding elected officials and community leaders that we cannot forget about lower and middle-income families living paycheck to paycheck, barely making ends meet. While the challenge is great, the needs are growing exponentially. Now is the time to build the next generation of ideas and opportunities.

At the last meeting of the Turlock City Council, we agreed to assist the city in tackling all these issues. It was why LHE was created and consistent with our mission. We want the City of Turlock to join LHE in finding new ways to make our collective efforts successful and to assist the City at no cost. This new assignment is not just about the homeless; it is much larger and more significant. It includes many factors that impact our community and will require collaboration rather than competition. We must develop incremental approaches to address a wide range of challenges. This is an opportunity to repair the social fabric that wraps around our community and face forward, focusing on today.

This work starts with understanding that we are undertaking this effort because we want to ensure that when LHE invests in new charitable healthcare solutions, we can maximize our success. This requires a nonprofit community working together, not against each other.

LHE wants to bring together the four leading organizations in Turlock that address the needs of the homeless so they can collaborate, not compete, for impactful solutions. These nonprofits are often forced to chase the same public funds. We aim to create a single solution to benefit all these organizations and our community.

Many in our community are food insecure. People who are homeless don’t own this issue. Lower and middle-income families continually find themselves struggling to feed their families. No one should have to choose between a gallon of milk or gas.

For many years, the United Samaritans Foundation (USF) has led this effort to feed anyone in need. Their work has been incredible. It has saved the lives of countless individuals and families. But imagine Turlock having a single central kitchen run by USF where all local, county, state, and federal food funds would flow through to help people and families in need. Community food and funding donations would come to one nonprofit that would serve as the feeder for other nonprofits in need.

Food insecurity impacts every child’s health and mental health. Far too often, the solutions required by the government focus only on the part of the problem, not the entire situation. For example, our public schools today provide most, if not all, children with at least two and sometimes three meals a day. And, when that child leaves on Friday, they take home food for the weekend. But only for the child, not the entire family.

And, as corporations evaluate how to donate products effectively, we need to remind them that direct delivery to a USF program cuts out the middleman and saves money. Why couldn’t a USF Central Kitchen also serve as a community food bank?

Finally, food insecurity also forces us to ask why USF delivers 150 meals every two weeks to students at CSU Stanislaus. Some live in their cars. We need to know why it has fallen on USF to do this. Is the CSU Stanislaus catering program unable or unwilling to help? Does the university need more federal or state subsidies to help hungry students? Is this the tragedy of the human condition?

Turlock could begin with 40-50 units of prefabricated housing for the homeless, targeting those willing to undergo daily drug and alcohol testing. We have a responsibility to help those who are currently suffering from drug or alcohol dependence and assist them in trying to get clean. This effort will need to collaborate with County training programs to help those homeless who want to get back on their feet, work, and rejoin society. We need to recognize that it will take work. If we can help people with a hand up, not a handout, we are also helping ourselves.

The housing challenges go well beyond the homeless. Our community also needs affordable rentals for lower and middle-income families and retirees. We can fight homelessness before it happens. Imagine 140 new rental units for seniors with a healthcare clinic built in and a centralized kitchen in case someone does not want to cook. When you combine city funding with investor ingenuity and funding, Turlock could see exciting new opportunities.

People living in shelters are forced to leave after breakfast (many return multiple nights). Can we assist the Gospel Mission with renovating its warming center and have another warming/cooling facility in the area? Fighting homelessness is not just about a bed, a meal, or a shower. If a warming or cooling shelter helps, the City Manager and City Council need to evaluate the actual costs to determine what is affordable and practical.

Mental health services are needed across every community in the United States. LHE created the First Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center to ensure that children and adults, with and without insurance, had a place to turn to for assistance. FBHUCC has successfully won federal grants to expand its services and recently became part of La Familia, a much larger nonprofit. Together, they are serving more and more of our community. And with the proper funding, they can aid those who are homeless. Partnering with the County and its resources could create a viable and sustainable solution.

Bringing healthcare and mental health services to residents is a start. The City of Turlock recently launched a contract with a local healthcare provider where a healthcare team will be available to help anyone in need every week. The program begins on the west side and will move around the city once a week at a different location. Health insurance is not required. And if the person needs medication, it will be filled at no extra cost.

Addressing public safety as part of this overall effort is paramount. We need effective and legally practical solutions to allow the City of Turlock Police Department to enforce safety, and security, to get sensible results. Working with the Turlock Police Chief and his staff to outline what is needed and why will help educate the community and aid the efforts of the City Council. Questions that could be addressed include: should overnight parking be allowed at parks? Is there an area in the city these vehicles could be parked with available portable bathrooms available and showers?

Additionally, we must protect property owners, including the downtown businesses, who often start their day by cleaning out excrement and other unhealthy, unsafe conditions before even starting their business day. This is not good for public health, and no business or homeowner should face these obstacles.

Facing forward and tackling the challenges outlined, including homelessness, are significant. Our goal is to help create viable and sustainable solutions, not more reports. The opportunities and the possibilities are endless. And so are the obstacles that may be thrown our way. The difference is this: this will be a very transparent process.

Our success and that of Turlock are based on tearing down the barriers and openly reporting who or what stands in the way. The City Council has the clout to create sustainable change. Our job is to help and be honest with them. This process should prove that no rural community should ever have to be ravaged by hypocrisy; the past should not have a stranglehold on future possibilities, and the distillation of problems we uncover should be unraveled so that real solutions for real problems can be identified.

— Jeffrey Lewis is the President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment and the EMC Health Foundation. The views expressed are his own.