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.