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Homeless shelter concept rejected
Ceres has its share of homeless people and a January 2017 count pegged the number at 35. - photo by Jeff Benziger

“Thanks, but no thanks” was the unanimous feeling of the Ceres City Council which rejected a new state program offering grant funds to help deal with homeless populations.

The council voted 5-0 to oppose declaring a shelter emergency in Ceres to be eligible for some of the $7.2 million that is expected to be made available in Stanislaus County.

The state Legislature recently adopted the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) to provide $500 million in community block grants to tackle the homeless crisis statewide. City Manager Toby Wells said that in order to access those funds, cities must pass a resolution declaring a shelter emergency crisis. The funds are for shelter construction, rental assistance, programs, and youth services but Wells said a countywide coalition has not decided where to spend the funds, which will be allocated by a homeless count that took place last year. That count estimated Ceres to have 35 homeless but Wells thinks the numbers may be higher.

“There’s a lot of questions out there that still we don’t have a whole lot of answers for,” said Wells.

The council collectively shared concerns that any effort to house the homeless would result as a magnet for more. An estimated 1,200 homeless live in Modesto and 250 in Turlock.

Councilman Mike Kline said he fears any shelter built in Ceres could be filled by homeless persons from neighboring cities. Wells said it appears that any cities not opting into the program would not be considered for a shelter. However, there has been talk of turning the former Memorial Hospital Ceres campus – which the county owns – into a homeless shelter.

The HEAP funds would not be spent on a temporary shelter now in place in Modesto across the river from Ceres, said Wells. Discussion about Modesto moving a growing encampment of homeless people in Beard Brook Park to under the Ninth Street Bridge drew fire from Councilman Channce Condit who called the plan “just plain irresponsible” because of its location in the river’s flood plain.

“If we say no to this, that doesn’t mean we are against the homeless,” said Councilman Bret Durossette. “I think there’s a huge need for Modesto and there’s a huge need for Turlock to where they could use this money.”

Vice Mayor Linda Ryno expressed concern that a city declaration would set up the city to dictates by the state in handling the homeless. She also expressed concern that Ceres wouldn’t qualify for much in HEAP assistance.

“I think your concerns are very valid,” said Mayor Chris Vierra, who cited how the state has dictated that Ceres provide water service to a mobile home park outside of the city limits. “Big Brother always seems to know what’s best for us,” he said, tongue in cheek. “You’re not going to get a kind word from me on the state because they always seem to know what’s best and they’re always the worst.”

Citizen Burl Condit said the homeless problem is “way beyond Ceres…but at some point in time when is somebody going to say enough is enough? When is the word ‘responsibility’ – self responsibility going to get put into its place? These people are responsible for themselves.”

Kline agreed with Burl Condit, saying the homeless need to take responsibility. He cited how homeless people fail to clean up after themselves which drains “more and more resources.”

“You don’t mind helping somebody who wants to help themselves but if they would show some compassion themselves and keep their self clean and orderly then why wouldn’t we try to assist them to get them out of their situation?” asked Kline. “It’s difficult for me to support this not knowing … where the money is to be spent.”

Mayor Vierra said he is not supportive of plans to move Modesto’s homeless problem into Ceres just because the county might own property in Ceres. He said there are multiple locations in Modesto. He said the Beard Brook Park camp is growing larger because there are no rules.

“I can’t feel comfortable signing up for something,” said the mayor, “that says I’m willing to move forward with helping but I don’t know what the rules are but if I want the money I have to opt in and let’s face it – $7.2 million for Stanislaus County that’s a drop in the bucket. If you have to build a shelter you’re going to be spending a lot of money doing that.”

He said Beard Industrial Tract spent over $100,000 cleaning up the mess left by the homeless living along the river opposite River Oaks Golf Course.