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City Manager's Blog

Dec 07

What's Next for Beard Brook Park and Modesto's Homeless?

Posted on December 7, 2018 at 4:40 PM by Thomas Reeves

Short-Term Homeless Stabilization Plan

Beard Brook Park
As a result of the Federal Ninth Circuit Court ruling, the Senior Executive Team for the City of Modesto made an executive decision to allow for camping at Beard Brook Park as a temporary solution in September.  Following this decision, the homeless community has gradually increased at the Park. 

Despite some significant benefits that this has provided to the homeless population, service providers, and the community at-large, this strategy was always intended to be the first step in a short-term plan, and is now being restructured.  Here's why:
  • Since September, the population has grown to over 400 people, including approximately 17 children
  • Calls for police and fire service have gradually increased at the park
  • Public health concerns related to hygiene and weather
  • Current camping location at Beard Brook Park is on a slope and is subject to rain runoff
  • Fire-related and air quality concerns
I'm pleased to announce a package of efforts underway to start a new chapter in providing for the homeless.  With Stanislaus County as a critical partner in this endeavor, next week begins a new series of actions aimed at tackling homelessness head-on.  Together, we're bringing the homeless issue from the backyard to the front yard.  

Tuolumne River Regional Park Gateway Parcel Homeless Camp
The city is recommending relocating the homeless community several hundred feet into the Tuolumne River Regional Park Gateway area that is larger and flatter (and closer to a bridge for minimal shelter, I might add). 

The relocation would be supported with weather-proof uniformed tents, additional support from Turning Point (more on Turning Point later) to manage the area as a shelter, outreach and engagement services from the County, and the development of fundraising strategies for continuous support for the homeless community.  

The goal for this outdoor location is to serve as a temporary alternative to the shelters that are being explored by the City and the County; and to support the County and homeless service providers in identifying each individual to assess their situation and provide daily case management services to help break the cycle of homelessness. 

Turning Point
One thing we've learned through this process of allowing camping at the park is we need a full-time partner who can more closely monitor the organization of the camp, including donations, which we know is so important to our community.  The County will be entering into an agreement with the Turning Point organization to provide the following services:
  • Coordination of safety and security
  • Coordination of volunteerism and donations
  • Supportive services such as case management
  • Rehabilitative opportunities to support the transition out of homelessness
Donations for Beard Brook Park Homeless
To address the issues and needs of the homeless population at the park, efforts, resources, and partnerships beyond what government can provide will be required.  In addition to mobilizing the community to support the site improvements and operations, the United Way has agreed to accept fiscal donations from the community to provide basic needs supplies. 

While not ready just yet, financial donations will be promoted and directed to the United Way to support the operator in purchasing and distributing basic needs supplies.  In addition, Turning Point will establish a donation process for other, tangible/physical donations as needed.  The establishment of both processes will improve the opportunities for the community to effectively and efficiently support individuals staying at the park. 

Focus on Prevention will also engage the community in supporting efforts at the new site, encouraging support and donations towards the established operator.  This will increase the opportunities for community support to be leveraged and maximized to serve homeless community members now and in the near future.

Salvation Army Shelter Expansion

Indoor and Outdoor Expansion
The city is exploring an expansion to the shelter capacity of Salvation Army with approximately 150 additional beds inside and outside the facility footprint.  To support this expansion, the Salvation Army is open to adjusting their shelter guest criteria to ensure that it meets the requirements of a Federal Ninth Circuit Court ruling. 

Access Center 
The homeless access center will be designed to be a one-stop shop for the homeless community to receive wrap-around services.  The County, City of Modesto, and Focus on Prevention partners will be working with Salvation Army to co-locate the service providers that will establish the 9th & D Street site as the Access Center.  These service providers will include a mix of county, county contractors, and community-based nonprofits. 

Additionally, the Salvation Army facility located on 7th and I Street is for sale, and the County and City are exploring options for purchasing and repurposing this facility as a family shelter. 

Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP)
The state's Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) is a $500 million grant designed to provide direct assistance to cities, counties, and Continuums of Care (CoC) to address the homelessness crisis throughout California.  The Stanislaus Community System of Care (CSOC), is eligible to receive $7,236,985.95 in HEAP funding, and the City of Modesto is eligible to receive the benefits of this funding, upon declaration of a shelter crisis.  

Shelter Crisis
In order for a city to obtain HEAP funding, the city is required to declare a shelter crisis through a resolution adopted by the City Council finding that a “significant number of persons within the jurisdiction are without the ability to obtain shelter, and that it has resulted in a threat to the health and safety of those persons.”  Any jurisdiction that does not declare a shelter crisis is ineligible to be a direct recipient of HEAP funds. 

The Modesto City Council will consider declaring a shelter crisis at the December 11th council meeting.

Downtown Streets Team (DST)
The Downtown Streets Team program aims to end homelessness through workforce training, employment, and employer pipelines.  The DST program provides homeless individuals with volunteer opportunities for beautification projects around the community.  In exchange for volunteer efforts, the DST participants receive weekly stipend cards that cover everything from bus passes, phone service, food, medication, enrollment fees for employment training courses.  If implemented in Modesto, this program will support up to 25 homeless individuals. 

This is another example of an innovative public, private partnership, as the financial burden of this program will be shared by the city, county, the Community Foundation, and other public and private funders.

This, too, will be considered at the Council meeting on December 11th. 

In Closing
The city cannot combat homelessness without relying on the innovative and collaborative efforts by partners such as the county, the Community Foundation, CSOC, United Way, Salvation Army, and many others.  We're presenting a robust package of efforts to the community, and we anticipate learning and retooling plenty along the way to success.  Remember, the ultimate goal is to help break the cycle of homelessness, and your team is prepared to tackle that in many new ways.  

We have an incredibly compassionate community, and I remain encouraged by all those who truly desire to help with this critical issue.  This is how we reimagine government, by harnessing our power to work together, get out of the traditional "government" mindset, and get creative.  
Nov 30

A Citizen's Perspective: Beard Brook Park

Posted on November 30, 2018 at 2:37 PM by Thomas Reeves

Your city leadership team continues to meet daily on the subject of Beard Brook Park and homelessness.  Today I thought I would take a break from sharing what the city is doing to tackle this complex issue in order to share some feedback I received from a citizen.  

Recently, we had an encouraging interaction with a community member who is passionate about serving the homeless members of our community, and with her permission, several of her kind remarks are reposted below.

"My heart aches when others are suffering.  I've always known there are homeless in Modesto, but seeing so many gathered in one place hits my heart on a whole new level.  I pray every day that I can find the opportunity to help give these folks some hope and encouragement to change their life's path. 

It's more than just giving them a hot meal and a warm jacket.  They need to be given hope and some pure love, which are the two reasons they are down and out, never having someone tell them they are beautiful and worth something.  

I believe we can see people restored – mind, body, and soul – and acting as healthy members of society.  Not all in need will accept help and get off the streets, I know that, but some will, and their lives are worth a fight.  Let's come together and fight!

I heard the city agreed to service the portable toilets daily!  Is that true?  If it is true, I have to say that is such a huge blessing to the Beard Brook Park village.  You should all be proud of offering that service!  Working together is key!"

As a side note, yes, we service the porta-potties every day.

"It's easy to point the finger, but it's a lot harder (and takes longer) to move forward and create change that way; pointing a finger means you are perhaps more focused on someone else's actions, instead of your own actions, and we all know you can't really force someone to change and do things your way (what you perceive as the right way).  The only thing we really have power of is our own actions, pointing the finger at one’s self, saying, "What can I do to help bring positive change?” 

Pointing fingers is a distraction; it's a fast way to release frustration about an issue you are passionate about, but it's also false progress. 

I'm new to the Beard Brook Park Village, and new to the workings of the city of Modesto.  I believe the citizens and the city's staff both want to help the homeless.  There may be a difference in opinions of the best way to bring positive change, but Lord have mercy!  Let's just calm down so we can make some bold, focused, ground-breaking forward movement on this issue.

Both sides are beautiful.  Both sides are VERY powerful.

My hope is that together we can move mountains and be an example to other counties on how to make positive change fast and long-lasting. 

It's a BIG deal that the city of Modesto has given a park to the homeless community. 

I know the city is taking a lot of abusive responses, lots of "you aren't doing enough.”  I appreciate your patience with the hostility I imagine you guys get. 

I hope you guys blow our minds!  Prove that you guys know what you are doing.  I believe you guys do know.  There are so many sides to this issue the public doesn't see. 

I've been diving into the community of people helping the folks living at Beard Brook Park, and I am amazed at the compassion and unconditional love being poured out on its inhabitants.  There is a long list of services being provided to those in need.  No one is getting paid to do it and they are using their own hard-earned money - and their time - to do it.  It’s beautiful!
 
And I'm so blessed to be joining in!  I'm going to be joining the Tuesday Crock Pot meal crew!  Yes!

I pray the city will listen to the needs of the volunteers and continue to help as much as possible.  But more importantly, I pray you and your team can implement a long-term solution soon.  Volunteers will take care of the daily needs for now, "hold down the fort,” while you guys find us the best long-term solution. 

No more band aids – we need deep, lasting healing.  In short, I pray I can help more and more to bring that lasting change. 

We are blessed – all of us.  It's a beautiful thing."

It is a beautiful thing, indeed, and I'm so encouraged by the tremendous support – from all sides – as we work together to combat this homeless crisis.

Nov 27

Update: Beard Brook Park Homeless Camp

Posted on November 27, 2018 at 4:33 PM by Thomas Reeves

As I’ve been reporting over the last several weeks, the city of Modesto elected to offer its Beard Brook Park as a temporary homeless camp in response to a Ninth Circuit Court ruling.  This ruling stated, in essence, that a homeless individual could not be cited for unlawful camping if there were no “no-barrier” shelter beds available; several local shelters have beds available, but there are barriers to many homeless individuals taking advantage of those beds – pets, partners, and possessions.  

I must again stress this is only a temporary solution, and your city leadership team meets daily to plan for a better alternative to Beard Brook Park.  Presently, there are more than 400 homeless individuals who sleep at this park, and although Beard Brook is not ideal, it has resulted in several benefits: other city parks are cleaner and with a large portion of homeless individuals in one place, our Outreach & Engagement teams have found great success in connecting this population to much-needed services.  The ultimate goal of our engagement is to end the cycle of homelessness.  

This population needs help, and we are working diligently, in partnership with the county and other organizations, to provide for life’s basic needs.  At the same time, we must balance the needs of the greater community by providing for the safety and well-being of all those we serve, and that includes directing people to shelter, clothing, and food.

The city’s leadership team recently made the decision to publicly discourage dropping off donations at Beard Brook Park.  This decision was not made lightly, and although the leadership team stands behind this decision, it has not been without opposition; there are some in the community who believe the city should encourage donations at the site.

At these daily strategy meetings, the team routinely hears reports from those on-site that donation drop-off has become quite disorderly, and that many people continue to drop off unwanted or inappropriate items.  For example, several pallets of canned collard greens were recently dropped off, and were found to be way past their expiration date, they were thrown away.

As the city is not set-up to be a donation center, nor is the city in the best position to receive and sort donated items, it had been determined at the very beginning that the city would continue to partner with organizations that are set-up in this manner, such as Salvation Army and the Gospel Mission.  

The city actively sought after a partnership with a group or individual who, on behalf of the city, would formally accept, sort, and evenly distribute donations, but was ultimately unsuccessful in finding such a partnership.  

What we need to avoid is folks dropping off unwanted items, old food, and broken furniture, all of which is compounding the challenge of excess garbage at the park.  In three months, the city has already spent nearly $10,000 of taxpayer resources just on the service of two dumpsters at Beard Brook Park.  These dumpsters are routinely overflowing with unwanted clothing and furniture.  

There is no easy way for the city to differentiate between what is acceptable and what is not appropriate to donate, so we will take a hard line in ensuring people donate through the appropriate channels.

The city continues to support organized groups that go to Beard Brook Park to offer food, showers, and other services during set hours (11 am – 1 pm every day except Sunday).  These groups can be found on Facebook, along with a calendar of when organizations are making trips to the park to help.

Wet Weather Approaching
The city remains committed to connecting homeless individuals with the services they need to break the cycle of homelessness, and as inclement weather approaches, we advocate for the empty beds at local shelters as the first priority to staying warm and dry.

Certainly any resident of Modesto has access to free sandbags at the city’s Corp Yard.  Sand and bags are available now at the corner of Washington and Elm (near the corp yard at 501 N. Jefferson Street).  This is a self-serve system, and residents are limited to 20 bags each and must bring their own shovel to fill the bags. 

I'm thoroughly impressed by the outpouring of support for our homeless community, and I appreciate your understanding and patience as we work together to find the most effective way to serve the city of Modesto.