Homelessness and the issues surrounding it have been discussed for many years. Some discussions have been valuable, a few insightful, but in the end, the status quo of rhetoric vs. action has been maintained over many years.
Over the past year, however, the Turlock City Council challenged the status quo by appointing an ad hoc committee led by Vice Mayor Pam Franco and Council member Rebecka Monez to tackle and create a Turlock Homelessness solution.
While some disagreed, they took a thoughtful approach to at least ensuring that the discussion moved forward. Specific recommendations were offered. And with the hiring of Reagan Wilson as City Manager, Turlock has a leadership team ready to act.
With time as our enemy, solutions must be agreed upon, and action is taken. While there may never be a consensus on the Turlock City Council, the Franco/Monez blueprint provides an action plan. And that time is now.
To that end, I recommend the following:
· Requirements: Drug and Alcohol-Free
If the City of Turlock will invest dollars in housing for the homeless, we must address the underlying challenges of drug and alcohol dependence. In collaboration with Stanislaus County, a drug and alcohol-free requirement should be established for housing for the homeless. Our goal should always be to help the person or family successfully fight the demons of alcohol and drug dependence while offering a free housing solution. If someone cannot demonstrate that they are drug and alcohol-free or have been and continue to be in a rehabilitation program through Prodigal Sons and Daughters, for example.
· Food Security:
A successful new housing program for the homeless must include a food security program that provides at least two meals daily. A partnership with the United Samaritans Foundation could accomplish this. And, with County leadership, funds could be secured to help ensure that USF could feed all the newly housed homeless individuals and families.
· Housing Units:
I am recommending forty housing units to start. These should be prefabricated units that can stack on top of each other (four units on the top and bottom).
· A Nonprofit to Administer the Program:
With Turlock having some incredible faith-based leaders, I recommend that one agrees to run this program. United Samaritans are doing a great job feeding our community, WE CARE and the Gospel Mission are housing some of the homeless but cannot administer this new program. The Salvation Army is doing so much to help our community they should not be burdened with this new program. This initiative will require the exclusive pastoral leadership and commitment that Turlock or any community has yet to see.
· Ongoing Mental Health Services:
At the recommendation of Legacy Health endowment, the City of Turlock agreed to add two mental health specialists to an initiative on the westside. Rather than limit the focus on the mental health specialists, they should be a dedicated part of the new homeless team to aid the transition of the forty people or families that will occupy this new fabricated housing.
· Ongoing primary care services:
Once the new City of Turlock Mobile Health initiative is launched, the new residents will have weekly access to the mobile health team. The goal is to keep people safe and reduce and eliminate visits to the Emanuel Medical Center Emergency room.
No one wants to be homeless, cold, or sick. Many homeless individuals got lost in a depersonalized healthcare and mental health system; people whose lives changed when the economy crashed, and they lost their jobs. Others became part of a drug and alcohol culture that has and continues to devastate their lives and those of their families and friends.
While Turlock has a handful of nonprofit organizations that have tried to take the lead in addressing the needs of the homeless, it is time for the city to find a new faith-based partner to assist with this new plan and strategy. Perhaps that new leadership will help ensure the Franco/Monez plan succeeds and demonstrate to the naysayers that things are possible when you want them to be.
Legacy Health Endowment will continue to help the city and our community. It is a great time to demonstrate how the faith-based community, public, private, for-profit, and nonprofit sectors come together to create sustainable change. No family should ever fear being homeless. Our responsibility is to help ensure that families across Turlock have the resources needed to survive and thrive.
The need is great. The time for action is now.
— Jeffrey Lewis is the President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment. The views expressed are his own.