Make no mistake, the issue of homelessness in the City of Modesto is a crisis. Travel past any number of our city parks recently and you would have seen homeless encampments popping up all over. This is simply unacceptable.
Recently, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that a city cannot criminalize a homeless person for unlawful camping if there are no available beds in shelters. Homeless individuals and homeless advocates took this as an opportunity to more blatantly set up camp in some of our most populate and visible public spaces. At this point, it has become increasingly challenging for our law enforcement personnel to enforce our current laws regarding camping in our parks.
As we weigh the implications of this decision, and review our current policies and ordinances, a temporary solution – some would call it a Band-Aid – is required.
The city’s leadership team has decided to allow for homeless camping at Beard Brook Park. Beard Brook Park is a reasonable location for homeless camping for several reasons. Essentially, it is not yet widely used by the public, and as a matter of fact, the park is not located adjacent to schools or residential neighborhoods. By asking homeless individuals to vacate the other parks in our city, and moving them to this one location, our public safety personnel will have a clear line of sight to those who need these services most.
It is absolutely my intention - and the goal of our team - to open Beard Brook and its new dog park, and to celebrate the larger Tuolumne River Regional Park program, very soon. We anticipate this park and the Tuolumne River will be a huge draw for dog owners and recreationalists alike.
This situation is evolving by the hour, and soon our team will have a plan to address the immediate needs of this make-shift homeless camp at Beard Brook Park. I am committed to ensuring the safety of those in and around this park by ensuring law enforcement is present, and basic human needs are met, including washing stations and restroom facilities. In addition, our partners with the Outreach & Engagement Team will be out there daily creating opportunities for these individuals to obtain various services.
I want to make clear, the city will not back down from tackling the homelessness crisis head-on because we firmly believe the safety and health of our communities, and everyone who calls Modesto home, is at risk.
At the same time, however, we are not neglecting the larger issue at-hand: we need more beds for those in need. We need a brick-and-mortar building, an emergency low-barrier shelter for those who need a bed and access to services.
We continue to collaborate with the county and our community partners on the next phase of addressing this crisis, and we will offer sites that could work as a shelter. Certainly there is a more permanent need for shelter beds in Modesto and throughout the state, but we will tackle this by taking one step at a time.
As we work together to address this serious issue in Modesto, I will continue to entertain any and all innovative concepts for meeting the needs of each member – regardless of where they lay their head at night – in our community.