TURLOCK — Last time the city tried to build a homeless shelter, outcry from neighbors at two potential sites put a halt to the project.
Now, Turlock officials, required by state law to find a spot for a shelter by August, are asking residents for their suggestions.
About two dozen people, many of them service providers for the homeless, showed up Thursday night for the city's first homeless center workshop.
They gathered around large maps that depicted Turlock's various commercial, industrial and residential districts. Debbie Whitmore, Turlock's deputy director of development services, asked attendees where to put a shelter.
The state law requires cities to designate a zone, or several zones, for a homeless shelter by August. "There is no requirement that you actually build one," Whitmore said.
Thursday's participants broke into groups and came up with suggestions. Most of them proposed a zone on the south and west side of the city, where many of the organizations that offer homeless services are housed.
One suggestion was to use the old Tri Valley Growers building along Golden State Boulevard. Another was to use an area farther west on Main Street. Though that area is farther from services, it's less populated.
"We figured the Turlock cemetery wouldn't have a lot of complaints from the neighbors there," said Jeff Woods, executive director of the Turlock Gospel Mission.
Turlock does not have a year-round shelter; the city operated a cold-weather shelter but did not reopen it last year after neighbors protested.
There is no definite penalty if the city does not comply with the law. But the state controls grant money, and potentially could withhold it from communities that are out of compliance.
There is another option to satisfy the law's requirements, Whitmore said: The city can set up an agreement with up to two neighboring communities for a year-round emergency shelter, to be built by August 2011.
Turlock sent letters to cities in Stanislaus and Merced counties, but got just two responses — from Merced and Patterson.
Merced, Whitmore said, ultimately decided to go it alone. Patterson is working with a nonprofit group to build a shelter just outside the city limit.
Whitmore said her staff will work with the Planning Commission to narrow down potential zones, and there will be another community meeting to consider those suggestions.
That's likely when the neighbors will come out. But City Manager Roy Wasden said he is hopeful that the city can alleviate the concerns of those who live nearby this time.
"The dream I have is bringing together faith-based groups and other service providers," he said. "This won't be a homeless center, it will be a resource center."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.