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City Manager's Blog

Oct 22

Update on City's Response to Homelessness

Posted on October 22, 2020 at 2:10 PM by Thomas Reeves

Modesto is a community that loves to help. That’s evident in the thousands of volunteer hours contributed around the City every year, whether through a one-day volunteer festival like Love Modesto or a long-term commitment you may have with a local non-profit close to your heart.

One of the ways the City is doing our part is by creating new and inventive solutions to homelessness. In the past few months, we’ve been hard at work developing three ways that will support current services and shape new ones to fill in the gaps.

“We want to open as many doors as possible to a life off the streets to improve their quality of life and the lives of those around them,” Caluha Barnes, Deputy City Manager said.

Camp2Home Program Launch
The goal of the Camp2Home program is to implement a homeless action plan that reduces encampments in public spaces, ensures the provision of supportive services and identifies strategies for permanent housing.

With nearly $5 million total funding from federal Emergency Solutions Grants and state Community Development Block Grants, this program is offering an innovative solution and a hand up, not a hand out to those in need.

Program leaders will reach out to individuals and partner with low barrier shelters to house those willing to engage. Individuals will participate in a “job ready” curriculum from the Downtown Streets Team that assists in writing resumes, calculating budgets, and obtaining government-issued identification, like ID cards and birth certificates.

Those enrolled in the program will work in four different city departments over the course of a year, expanding their resumes and gaining hands-on job experience. After graduation, these individuals can be hired for full-time work at a number of local businesses with ongoing case management and will be assisted in finding permanent housing.

SCRG Creation
The County is partnering with us in a multijurisdictional agreement called the Stanislaus Community Response Guidelines for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness (SCRG).

Certain locations within the City are under the jurisdiction and control of the State or County, which complicates the procedure for enforcing encampments on the City’s side. (For an example, see last week’s blog post on the State Route 99 Cleanup.)

This agreement will standardize how to address encampments crossing City or County lines to significantly increase the probability of successful outcomes for all involved: those experiencing homelessness, responding staff, and the community.

HEART Expansion
We are also expanding our police department’s outreach program, Homeless Engagement and Response Team (HEART). Six part-time employees will widen the scope of outreach and to ensure a variety of services are offered to individuals experiencing homelessness in the City.

As you can see, the City is working hard to partner with organizations and devise programs to help solve homelessness in ways that will make a measurable difference.

Those experiencing homelessness are taking advantage of the programs we provide in order to better their lives and the lives of those around them—and Modesto has the community to support them.
Oct 14

State Route 99 Cleanup

Posted on October 14, 2020 at 2:31 PM by Thomas Reeves

Highway 99 is the “front door” to Modesto: Anyone and everyone who drives the route should be able to get a general sense of the quality of life and well-being of its residents in a drive past, whether that’s the abundance of thriving small businesses, family homes, or agricultural land. In some unfortunate cases, homeless encampments paint a different picture of the City.

The highway is the State of California’s jurisdiction and is maintained by state funds through Caltrans. Typically, the debris from homeless encampments is cleaned up on a regular basis by Caltrans; however, in March, encampment cleanups were suspended to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in individuals displaced by the service.

Requests can be made for exceptions if there are immediate safety concerns with risk to life. To be accepted, the requests must show prior efforts to engage with the individuals living in the encampments.

“MPD’s Homeless Engagement and Response Team (HEART), along with Stanislaus County Social Services, has provided extensive outreach at known encampments to shelter the homeless, but unfortunately, most have refused offers of shelter or assistance. Due to the imminent danger these encampments pose, we will continue to be proactive to ensure the safety of all residents,” Assistant Police Chief Brandon Gillespie said.

On September 23, the three-mile stretch on Highway 99 between the Tuolumne and Briggsmore exits was granted an exception based on three immediate safety concerns: Pedestrian fatalities; excessive debris; and a dangerous and potentially explosive item, a honey oil butane drug lab, found in one of the encampments.

City officials and residents alike were concerned with the accumulation of furniture and debris along the freeway that could endanger motorists if any fell into the roadway. Additionally, there have been 16 calls to law enforcement regarding pedestrians on the highway, resulting in the deaths of three homeless individuals since the beginning of this year.

With the risk to life and safety clearly established,
State Route 99 Underpass before cleanup Caltrans approved the exception for the three-day cleanup on September 29. They posted signs 72 hours in advance, notifying campers to relocate and take their belongings with them. Any abandoned materials left at the site were removed, leaving a clean and much safer highway. 

This is the second successful exception request Modesto has received, and our police department will continue to be both proactive in their outreach and vigilant in requesting additional exceptions, if needed.

State Route 99 Underpass after cleanupResidents are encouraged to report trash, homeless encampments, and other issues through the GoModesto! app or our website to continue making Modesto a safe place to live, work, and play.
Oct 08

Why the City's Communications Plan is Important

Posted on October 8, 2020 at 11:19 AM by Thomas Reeves

The City recently released a new Communications Plan, detailing priorities, strategies, and tools the City uses when communicating with you, a Modesto resident. But why should this matter to you?

Transparent government can’t happen if residents are not notified of upcoming projects, services, and changes within the City. Transparent government also can’t happen if these notifications are meant to simply check a box, yet don’t actually reach residents.

The plan’s goal is to increase community understanding of City services, initiatives, and resources in order to better inform future communication.

Think of making a phone call in an area with spotty reception. The person you’re calling may be able to get the gist of what you mean, but they’re not getting every detail.

The Communications Plan is an effort to increase reception so that the person on the other end of the line knows exactly what we, the caller, are saying and how it affects them. It lays out the most efficient ways to contact our diverse population to ensure that every resident is fully informed.

And even then, good phone conversations aren’t single-sided.

That’s why we’re proud to be working on an Engagement Plan—to be completed by the end of 2020—to help perfect the two-way conversation between residents and the City.  This will allow the City to get resident input and determine what levels of engagement work best for various projects.

This is all part of the Five-Year Strategic Plan, which outlines ten long-range goals and specific strategies for reaching those goals to continue to better the community.

Resident input and feedback is invaluable to City leaders and staff. It’s the residents that make Modesto, where our community is inclusive and our innovation prospers.