Turlock group forms to help homeless

TURLOCK -- The city still doesn't have a solution to its homeless problem. But it at least has a group of service providers working together on it, which hasn't always been the case.

The Turlock Homeless Action Committee, created in October 2008, met last week to update the community on its progress.

"We are a diverse group with one goal," said Barbara Bawanan, director of United Samaritans Foundation. "We saw the homeless with different mind-sets."

Representatives of business groups, service providers, churches and the homeless comprise the committee.

Jeff Woods, director of the Turlock Gospel Mission, said the first challenge was "gathering people into a manageable but genuinely representative group." Once that happened, the committee could look into steps that would help people.

It's a difficult task, made more complicated by the changing face of homelessness. "You think of homeless as single people, but we're seeing more and more families," Woods said. "And we see a lot of prehomeless, just one small step away from being homeless."

One major hurdle has been developing a shelter. Turlock closed its cold-weather shelter in 2008 and didn't reopen it after neighbors objected to a plans for a new site. The city is still working to find a new location.

In addition to a shelter, homeless advocates said the city needs a one-stop center to fill needs ranging from laundry to building job skills. Committee members said they found a variety of resources available in Turlock, but they're at different locations. Getting around town isn't easy for the homeless.

Another priority is providing help every step of the way for those seeking to get off the streets. That includes transitional group housing and traditional low-income housing.

Woods said it can be hard to motivate people who have been homeless for some time. "If you're in the streets more than about six weeks, you get numb pretty quick," he said.

Committee members said their next steps are to adopt a formal strategy and an agreement for the service providers to work together.

The committee will have another public meeting in April or May. Members said there is no time to lose.

"This is March," said Turlock Gospel Mission board member Chris Kiriakou. "November is just around the corner."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.

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