California Governor Gavin Newsom has been justly criticized for his policies on homelessness, especially his reliance on sweeps as the chief tactic for managing California’s growing homeless population. Many of the sweeps chase homeless people from freeway margins and underpasses into cities, with the result that Newsom has continued to blame the state’s mayors for failing on homelessness — a form of blame-shifting that fails to recognize realities like housing shortages, holes in the health care safety net, and a lack of resources for the mentally ill.
Newsom does have a point, however, when it comes to many cities in the state, and the City of Modesto offers a prime example. Last June, strapped for funds and with a rising homeless population, the Modesto City Council proposed a one-cent sales tax increase for, among other things, “police patrols, gang, drug, and crime prevention; fire protection, paramedic/911 emergency response; addressing homelessness,” and “keeping streets, parks, sidewalks, landscapes and infrastructure safe, clean, and well-maintained.”
Prominent citizens and businesses throughout the city promoted the tax increase, which was featured on the November 8 ballot as Measure H. Some donated as much as $10,000. In all, over $150,000 was raised by the private sector in support of the tax. Even prominent local Republicans and candidates for the city council supported the tax increase, marking a rare moment of bipartisan support for a policy generally regarded as anathema by conservatives.
After the measure won, political consultant Mike Lynch offered several reasons for the measure’s success. Chief among those reasons was “public awareness.” Lynch wrote that,
“It had become impossible to ignore the decline in city services. Public safety resources had been significantly reduced with emergency response times getting longer. Homelessness seemed to be increasing with the unintended quality of life challenges soaring. The public knew we had to do better, and Modesto had reached a tipping point.”
April 13, the city released an overview of how Measure H funds will be allocated. Of the $10 million it expects to receive in the last quarter of this budget year, the city expects to spend $4.5 million for “public safety, homelessness, parks, and reducing blight.” However, other than authorizing more expenditures for Park Rangers, whose chief job has been to chase homeless people out of one place and into another, the city has yet to offer a specific action plan for reducing the number of homeless people in its parks and other public places.
Like most cities throughout the state, Modesto has been unimaginative and complacent about homelessness. Reliance on shelters, sweeps, and “move along” orders have proven ineffective, yet city authorities seem unable to devise alternatives.
While Modesto has continued to avoid meaningful action to reduce homelessness, there are signs that some city officials have had enough. City Councilmembers Chris Ricci and Nick Bavaro have both voiced support for safe ground camping and transitional housing options such as Dignity Moves, a small village concept that offers stand-alone shelter and privacy for people with limited or no resources. Ricci told the Modesto Bee’s Garth Stapley that, “There is significantly more energy now behind trying innovations on homelessness than there was on the previous council.”
As homeless numbers continue to increase throughout the state, California’s and Modesto’s residents have to hope their state and cities devise homeless management plans that actually get homeless people out of public places, on to safe ground, and in to transitional housing. Unless that happens, Gavin Newsom will likely be proven right about the failures of California cities to manage homelessness, even while he himself has wasted billions of dollars in futile attempts to sweep homelessness away.
April Ward says
Your thoughtful and thought provoking articles document the myriad concerns and missteps related to how we address homelessness in our county. I would find it useful if you delineated steps we concerned citizens of Stanislaus county could take to encourage elected officials to act differently. Should we inundate city hall to call out their less than successful approaches? Perhaps we should send a paper barrage to the CEO’ s office asking them for an account of the millions upon millions of dollars spent on inept leadership that move one step forward and 3 steps back, year after year? Or should we coordinate a letter writing campaign aimed at State senators and assembly members to advise then how poorly their grants and other funding has been managed at our local level? I was out there for years (both personally and professionally) providing direct services and have served at least my share of time. I would now like to be more engaged in a different way. I want to help address the travesty that is Stan County’s and the cities’ lip service approach to unsheltered people in our community but I’d like my engagement to give me the most bang for my buck, and I don’t know what would get me that.
Frank Ploof says
Contact me and lets chat. The editor can can send my info.
Richard Anderson says
I sure appreciate your comments here. A group has just been formed to create a voting constituency in Modesto, to urge City and County now to address the remaining 1000+ homeless in Modesto. This is the residual population after many have been sheltered or housed by the Low Barrier Shelter, Kansas House, and others.
Just today (May 1, 2023) our group met with Supervisor Terry Withrow; next week we will be meeting with Mayor Sue Zwahlen and 3 City Council members.
We are building a web site for us to share with you our goals. Our two current goals are: Establish a safe camping/parking close to the existing Access Center; designate land for Tier-1 housing, such as Dignity Moves is doing in other parts of the State.
Google, Mocag.org for you to find us, the Modesto Citizens Action Group. Please check us out and join us if you wish.
Agreed, the homeless problem is “a” problem, but just one problem with Modesto.
The largest problem (by far) for Modesto city council and elected officials is the total and complete lack of vision! The only plan/vision is spending on efforts that are localized within just a few city blocks of direct “Downtown.”
I hear all the crying and winning about “We just don’t have the funds. We’re doing everything we can, we’re just going to have to raise taxes.”
It seems to me, if you really want more revenue, then step 1, make Modesto more desirable! If in fact its more desirable, people will move here! When more people move here, more taxes are raised. Its really not that damn difficult to understand. How about, just for beginners we don’t allow the worst of the worst companies that have trash and garbage, derelict old broken down buildings continue doing business as usual right along the freeway without demanding things are cleaned up? I have literally met hundreds of people that the minute I tell them where I live, I can see the “Uggg” on they’re faces. I ask “Have you been there?” And it is always, Always followed up with.. “I’ve driven through, but dear God, I woukd never stop!! What a shit show!” This city does nothing to beautify any thing but the direct downtown.
I own a piece of property on one of the main one way to the freeway streets here in Modesto. Unfortunately, it’s just on the west side of the tracks. This translates to, “Sorry, we just don’t care!!” And if you think I’m kidding, simply drive from downtown on any street west over the tracks and have a look.
And here is something that is Never brought up, the Downtown Modesto community agreement. This is the company that is in charge of keeping the Modesto community clean, free from tagging, trash clean up, etc. This is a (private) company, Private. Yet, the fees to this company are added directly to everyone’s property tax bill. Apparently no one actually looks at the tax bill. This company employs a large group of very hard working people. I have the utmost respect for the team. The problem is the person that owns and is the CEO. There is no incentive to follow through on tasks, there is no need because he has already been Paid In Full!! It is forced upon us to pay with his company’s fee being on your tax bill. You have to pay!!
I happen to be the last building on my block that is forced paying this bill. The team will pick up the garbage in this area, but (now the follow through), the company owner has them leave the bags of trash literally at the corner. Within 2 hours the bags have been ripped open, trash has been gone through and is now blowing down the same damn street it was just picked up from!! Are we getting this yet? He owns the tire company “and” the nail company. And we are Forced to pay his bill. My new fence was tagged in purple eight (8) months ago. The team wiped it down with something that smeared the purple. When I called them on this, Josh (owner) said “Well, we can paint it, but you’ll have to supply the paint. Ok, not a big deal right? Well, I’ve been paying this bill for years now. I have the paperwork (from the county) that shows the exact breakdown of what my yearly bill should be, going off square footage, lot line, etc. it should he aprox $475.00 per year. I’m being, and have been charged $1864.00
I have been fighting this for 3 years. I have sent letters to the owner of said Modesto Downtown community, to the tax assessor, to the tax collector, to the city council members of my area, to the Mayor and even to the Modesto bee editor. And no one is willing to give any answers, or even have a conversation. This company is literally making hundreds of thousands if not millions from the tax payers of this community, and it seems no one is even looking. Have a look on what this company charged just to put Christmas lights on the trees on 10th. Street last year. Your head will spin!!
You want to make more revenue, you want to bring people into this city that would be proud to live here? Then, public officials beautify more than your direct area, beautify the actual town, not just the 6-8 city blocks you reside in!
Get you act together Modesto!!
Lauri Keen says
You people ain’t done nothing to get people off the street here in Modesto. I don’t see the right people doing that job.
Mary Young says
One thing that nobody seems to address is that there are working people that are homeless also. You have to make two and a half to three times the amount of the rent to even qualify for an apartment. Take this away. Maybe make it one and a half times. That would help some homelessness. I know people that are sleeping in their cars because they couldn’t afford three times the amount of the rent. Just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean you’re not working. You have to make between 25 and $28 an hour to make three times the amount of the rent for an average one bedroom. Very hard to do here in Modesto. We also need more affordable housing. The waitlist for an apartment for low income is pushing 3 years.
Homeless working class says
I totally agree with this writer considering I am homeless with a job and can’t afford anything with the wages offered around here.
Anne Wolfley says
MID is taking too long to sign off on housing that has been ready to go for more than half a year. Units are sitting empty while people could be occupying them.