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Changing park hours won’t address homeless issues
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Dear Turlock Council Members:

I was able to attend your special meeting on Thursday but cannot be present on Tuesday. It was clear most of those speaking that evening believe we need to focus on each of the individuals who need help. I have been involved in homeless issues for many years. As a pro bono attorney, I assisted both We Care – Turlock and Turlock Gospel Mission in their formation and obtaining tax exempt status. I continue to financially support both. I also facilitated a very large bequest to United Samaritans.

My office is near the downtown district. Recent years have been a constant headache with individuals and groups sleeping in my office doorways, on sidewalks and parking areas. They leave garbage, human waste and drug paraphernalia for my staff to clean up.

I have spent time studying the Institute for Local Government Task Force report on Homelessness ( I would strongly urge each Council Member to do the same. This is a very difficult problem for many reasons and it will not be solved by simply removing people from parks. In reviewing the task force report, I did not see keeping people out of the parks as one of the actions that was effective. Indeed, I am certain the primary result of such a step will be to drive the homeless unto properties in the local neighborhoods such as my office, as well as alleys and back yards. I don’t think this would be progress.

The proposal you will be considering changing park hours is a classic example of government wanting to appear to do something to appease certain interests. It is also puzzling because just a couple years ago the City had a successful program that had substantially reduced the park population. It was a joint effort of the City Attorney and Police Department. What happened to that program?

If we want to make real headway on this issue proper use of the pending State grant is the best option. Many of the solutions involve county level resources in mental health and other programs. Ideally, the example in the task force report for San Diego’s Project 25 to the use of social workers to have a one-on-one relationship with the most challenging cases to produce positive results. The Turlock Gospel Mission has had many successes with this approach.

With a total of $7 million county-wide, applying Turlock’s share with other resources would enable a significant portion of our local homeless population to be served. One important aspect of any program should be to be identify and quickly meet the housing needs of the new homeless population, so that they can avoid feeling the hopelessness resulting from being on the streets long-term.

Unfortunately, a significant portion of the target group have substance abuse issues. Because of recent initiatives, Props 40 and 47, programs that in the past were successful, such as drug court and diversion to treatment, no longer have the reality of jail or prison as a motivator to encourage persons to overcome these conditions. This means that elimination of homelessness is not an attainable goal, but we can have programs for those with the willingness to overcome their challenges.

The Council should take the time to work closely with all resources available to confront this problem. It will not be solved with quick cosmetic fixes.

— Ron Hillberg