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, 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.
Residents 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.