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A responsible strategy to address the needs of the homeless
Jeffrey R. Lewis

Turlock and its surrounding communities need to address our growing homeless population.  The needs are great, and the challenge is significant, but not impossible. 

No one wants to be homeless, cold or sick.  Many homeless individuals are women and men who got lost in a depersonalized healthcare and mental health system; people whose lives changed when the economy took a dive and they lost their jobs.  Others became part of a drug culture that has and continues to devastate their lives and the lives of their families and friends. Turlock has a handful of nonprofit organizations that have taken the lead in addressing the needs of the homeless.  The City of Turlock has offered its assistance, too.  The core of the problem? There is no plan.

No single nonprofit agency or government agency has taken the lead in developing and implementing a strategy.  Without a leader and a strategy, discussions continue to be circular, frustrations of downtown business owners grow, community members continue to raise safety concerns and homeless women and men do not know where to turn. Acting without research wastes resources and time that the homeless and the members of our community do not have to spare. Our success as a community will be insured by our ability to integrate long-term and short-term planning and to maximize available funding and services.

What is in place?

We Care provides nighttime shelter for homeless men and housing solutions.  The Turlock Gospel Mission has focused on caring for homeless women and families. The Salvation Army is taking care of whoever walks through their door. United Samaritans Foundation feeds people lunch, provides showers, outreach and food boxes; and the Turlock Gospel Mission offers free breakfast and perhaps additional meals.  Haven Women’s Center provides care for homeless domestic abuse survivors and their children.  Prodigal Sons and Daughters focuses on teenagers who may be homeless, using drugs or alcohol and treating adults for their addictions.

These are all functioning organizations that are providing worthwhile services. Our community and the community’s homeless individuals, need them all.  However, let’s look for a moment beyond the homeless community’s basic needs for food, shelter and safety. Are there training programs that some homeless individuals may qualify for?  Are there housing programs to begin to help bring a sense of normality to the lives of homeless women, children, families and men?  What is the role of Stanislaus County, and what have they done to help Turlock?

The questions are endless.  The frustrations continue to mount across government, business, nonprofits and those legitimately in need.  Compounding these problems is the need for access to medical care and mental health services.

While each of these steps is important and valuable, no one has stepped forward to take ownership of the issue and build a strategy to address the multiple problems faced by various stakeholders (or take ownership). It’s a new year.  Let’s begin 2019 with a plan called, “Building A Better Turlock” which is outlined, below.

Step One:  Who is Serving the Homeless?

If the Mayor and City Council want our help,  Legacy Health Endowment wants to step up.  To begin, we will lead an effort to survey the major programs serving the homeless.  The survey will consider the services provided, the fundraising needs, the gaps in care and a recommended path forward.  The survey would be transparent by working with a handful of leaders of homeless programs, the City, the Turlock Journal Editor and downtown business owners.  This would help ensure that we are focusing on the issues that matter, the questions and answers that are being raised and considered and conclusions about how best to address the challenges we face.

Step Two:  Addressing the Health and Mental Health Needs of the Homeless

Recently, Legacy Health Endowment provided funding to the Castle Family Health Center and UCSF Fresno School of Medicine to launch a mobile healthcare clinic.  Physician residents from the UCSF Fresno program are providing physicals, flu shots and other primary care services to ensure that people who need healthcare services have access.  The EMC Health Foundation has funded a full-time mental health clinician to work with the homeless to begin to understand the kinds of mental health issues involved.  Throughout the next few months, we will report to the Mayor and City Council on whether, and to what extent, there is a healthcare crisis for the homeless, as well as how it is being addressed today and tomorrow. 

Step Three:  Articulating a Plan

In 60 days,  LHE  will present elected officials, business leaders, homeless advocates and the community with a report on our findings and very specific recommendations.  

Step Four:  Important Interim Steps

Throughout the next 60 days, we propose the following:

1.       The Turlock Gospel Mission or United Samaritans utilize its meals programs and food bank to serve the homeless;

2.       We urge the Salvation Army and the Turlock Gospel Mission Homeless Assistance Ministry (H.A.M. Day Center) to open their doors for people to a have a warm place to rest at night since We Care is usually at capacity these days.  Imagine lining up cots on the gymnasium floor of the Salvation Army Building to offer a homeless individual  a warm bed;

3.       The City Executives, led by Maryn Pitt, (who is knowledgable and passionate about solving these problems locally) will work with the County to identify funds to help the Gospel Mission fund the operation of the warming center;

4.       We Care to dedicate two beds in its shelter to provide shelter for homeless men being released from EMC Hospital, with Covenant Care at Home providing the follow up medical care for not more than 10 days to help get these men back on their feet and into the community;

5.       Golden Valley Health Centers continue its mobile nurse program helping treat homeless women and men with immediate healthcare needs.  The program has and continues to be a great success; and

6.       It is long overdue to have a centralized food distribution strategy where individual nonprofits are not picking up the donated food and then being charged for it.

This is a 60-day plan.  Not perfect, but a plan, nevertheless.  It allows all the stakeholders in our community to participate and it promotes and embraces transparency as we begin to move forward.  Once the report is finished, we will offer to present the findings to the Mayor, City Council, City Manager and staff.

There are no quick or easy solutions to addressing the needs of the homeless, but we can, we must, stop the finger pointing and build a solution.  The need is great and the challenge enormous, but not impossible.  My email is  — let me know if you want to ‘Help Build A Better Turlock.’

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