Four months ago, as President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment (LHE), I pledged to undertake an analysis of the homeless problem in Turlock. Then, as now, it was clear that the needs are great and the challenge is significant, though not insurmountable.
As most people would agree, 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 continues to devastate their lives and the lives of their families and friends.
A handful of Turlock’s nonprofit organizations have stepped up to address the needs of the homeless. The City of Turlock has offered its assistance, as well. Unfortunately, what’s missing is a plan to efficiently serve the homeless developed primarily by the nonprofit organizations who support them.
No single nonprofit organization 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 members of our community do not have to spare. Our success for manageable growth as a community will depend upon our ability to integrate long-term and short-term planning, as well as maximizing available funding and services.
Each of the four organizations working with the homeless and their CEOs are tireless advocates. Christian Curby (Turlock Gospel Mission), Beverly Hatcher (United Samaritans Foundation), Major Debi Shrum (Salvation Army – Turlock Corps) and Maris Sturtevant (We Care Program), are to be commended and thanked. However, they recognize the need for greater coordination and collaboration among these organizations.
Additionally, the boards of directors of these organizations need to come together to develop a plan to collectively and effectively address the needs of the homeless. If the staff and boards are aligned, there is a greater likelihood of collective success. Moreover, it would benefit these combined nonprofit boards to participate in an annual or semi-annual board boot camp, where together they could discuss best practices for fundraising and other shared needs.
These are important immediate first steps to take to address Turlock’s homeless problem.
The LHE report examines all components of this problem. It concludes that with much better communication, collaboration, greater nonprofit homeless board involvement, and a shared strategic vision we can address some of the more troubling aspects of this issue. A shared strategic vision should be driven by the organizations serving the homeless, not by the city or county government.
Such a plan should be shared with the community so that people are able to voice support or opposition to an issue that affects us all. When a community-wide strategy is built, elected officials should be encouraged to engage. Throughout the process, it is also important to have input from the public sector, though not from elected officials. Their time should be focused on the larger and more important problem of protecting middle-class families from becoming homeless, impoverished or both.
Homelessness is not only one of the greatest challenges of our day; it is a symptom of a larger and more ferocious challenge that is devastating families across the Central Valley and the nation. With middle-class families constantly under pressure to save for retirement, create a rainy day fund for emergencies, and save for their children’s education, on top of paying their bills, their ability to survive economically, spiritually and emotionally is severely challenged.
In my opinion, Turlock does not have a homeless “crisis,” but we do have a homeless problem. Longer term, we need an honest discussion about the future of families in Turlock. How can we protect every family, not just our small homeless population? That is both the challenge and the opportunity.
Our responsibility should center on how to protect families from becoming impoverished or homeless. We need to turn an effort to help boost a few into a long-term plan to make sure the few don’t turn into many
Legacy Health Endowment is developing and funding programs that break new ground, having launched a mobile healthcare initiative to help communities across the region, and pioneered the creation of a program with EMC hospital to ensure that the homeless are cared for once discharged from the hospital.
Within a few months, we will be funding the creation of the first nonprofit behavioral health urgent care center to help children up to age 26 who suffer from a mild to moderate mental health challenge. We will likewise soon open the community’s first charitable pharmacy, where those without prescription drug insurance will be able to fill their prescriptions for free. Our colleagues at the EMC Health Foundation are sponsoring a free Women’s Health Clinic at Larsa Hall on May 20 and helping local federally qualified health centers to recruit doctors.
Each charitable dollar is being used as venture capital to invest and reinvest in the community. It is time for Turlock to get past the discussion of a “homeless crisis” and begin the real discussion and debate over how we can protect lower and middle-income families.