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Reducing homelessness goal of county summit
Over 500 attend Modesto event
Homeless Summit 2
Hundreds gathered to take part in the Finding Our Way Home summit on homelessness that Stanislaus County and the City of Modesto hosted on Thursday. - photo by NATALIE WINTERS/The Courier

Reducing the social stigma of being homeless and raising awareness of the different reasons a person may find themselves living on the streets was just a part of the discussion held Thursday at the "Finding Our Way Home" summit.

"The face of homelessness has changed," said Katie Smith, development coordinator for the Modesto Gospel Mission. "It can be the average single mom, not just a person battling addiction. We never know what tomorrow will bring."

Smith was one of over 500 people who attended the Focus on Prevention summit about homelessness in Stanislaus County.

The Focus on Prevention Initiative is a 10-year vision of Stanislaus County officials and community members to move toward community transformation and prosperity, with the primary focus being to reduce homelessness.

"Homelessness is an issue that has no simple answer," said Modesto City Manager Jim Holgersson. "We are pleased that people are coming together to work on this and make a concerted effort to reduce and prevent homelessness."

The summit provided a forum for ideas and to help develop strategies related to this challenge. The paneled discussions were lead by community advocates, leaders of service organizations and representatives from the business community.

A man named Dain who has lived "houseless" for most of his life also addressed the room. Dain uses the term "houseless" because he believes "home" is a matter of where your heart is.

Dain was just one of many homeless individuals who offered their own personal experiences to the day's discussions.

Sectors involved in the prevention initiative included government, business, health, non-profit, philanthropy, education, faith, neighborhood, media, arts, entertainment and sports.

"The only way we will succeed is to come together and form one team to help the people in our community," said Smith. "There's no check you can write and there's no organization that can stand on its own to defeat homelessness. It's going to be a group effort."

Brad Hawn with Modesto Neighborhood Inc. encouraged county residents to not just offer complaints about the area's homeless population, but to focus on a solution.

"I understand it can be frustrating having a homeless person in your backyard or your community," said Hawn. "But we're from the outside looking in, it's important to be a responsible neighbor with an effort to be part of the solution."