Homelessness rising in Patterson; Advocates concerned by stalled progress of new shelter
by Nick Rappley | Patterson Irrigator
Feb 07, 2013 | 2903 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Forty-year-old Ray Lucas is jobless and homeless in Patterson.

A machinist for 22 years, he lost his job in Livermore six months ago, followed by his house in Santa Clara.

His wife and children are living with her relatives in Patterson, but space is tight and there is no room for him. He spends his days searching for job openings at the library and does odd jobs to make money to survive.

“I’m sleeping in my car and looking for work,” he said Thursday, Jan. 31, as he picked up a free bag of basic supplies — toiletries, underwear, snacks — at North Park in downtown Patterson during a federally mandated countywide count of homeless people by Stanislaus County Housing and Support Services Collaborative.

Lucas is one of about 80 people in Patterson who are living on the streets, in a vehicle, on someone’s couch or in a garage, said Claudia Smith, who helped with the count.

That number was 53 two years ago, the most recent time the homeless census was taken, according to Smith, a Patterson resident who volunteers to take care of the homeless and hungry in the city.

The Stanislaus County Housing and Support Services Collaborative consists of 50 public and private agencies working to end homelessness in the county.

The Center for Human Services led the census effort in Patterson. Volunteers questioned people about their living conditions, sleeping places and income, among other matters.

Smith, who passed out surveys and supply bags, said Patterson’s homeless indicated Thursday that jobs were their top priority.

She was already familiar with Patterson’s homeless population as coordinator of Trust in Jesus Cuisine, a ministry that serves free lunches in North Park, and as a volunteer with the homeless advocacy group Helping Others Sleep Tonight, which is trying to open a permanent homeless shelter in Patterson.

“People lose their jobs, then lose their house — now they’re living in cars or on a friend or relative’s couch or in their garage or even outside,” she said. “How can you even look for a job if you don’t have an address — if you don’t have a place to live?”

Residents reach out

Patterson resident Steven England, 56, showed up Thursday to get lunch from Trust in Jesus Cuisine and to collect food and supplies for others. He said he had been homeless in the past.

“I changed my life — I haven’t been on the streets in six years,” he said.

Police officers and others helped him get medication, apply for disability income and move into an apartment at El Solyo Village, 850 N. Second St., which has low-income housing for seniors and people with disabilities.

Now, he tries to assist others.

“If I get something, I give it to a homeless person,” England said. “It’s all about giving and reaching out to others.”

Smith said Patterson is filled with residents who want to help, but expressed concern about recent efforts by the city to open a homeless shelter that will be run by HOST.

Plans for the shelter have been moving through the city’s permit process since October.

Smith said she knew of at least a half-dozen visits to the hospital by homeless people who had been living outside and became ill because of harsh winter cold.

“If we don’t open this house soon, I’m afraid someone is going to die at night,” she said.

Shelter faces challenges

The HOST house, a shelter for homeless adults, is slated to open sometime this year in a building on the corner of C and South Fourth streets that was once an assisted-living center.

Following renovations, it is expected to house up to 16 homeless men and women. While residing there, they could search for jobs and work to get into more permanent housing.

Plans for the building have yet to receive city approval, however.

HOST originally broke ground in late June, began renovations and hoped to have the shelter open by November.

Though the City Council approved an ordinance Nov. 21 allowing for a permanent shelter at the location, building plans have gone back and forth since October between HOST and a city contractor.

Original plans were sent Oct. 23 to Sacramento-based Bureau/Veritas, which has a contract with the city of Patterson to ensure that building plans align with city and state requirements for mechanical, electrical and structural integrity and disability access.

Those plans were returned to the nonprofit Nov. 13 with requests for corrections, according to Jim Swanson, the city’s chief building official.

“We sent them digital copies, and they didn’t tell us until January that they needed hard copies,” HOST President Rich Kelly said.

Martin Salmon, a Patterson architect helping HOST with plans to turn the Fourth Street building into a shelter, said his firm and Bureau/Veritas both took two weeks off for the holidays, and it was January before the corrected plans were returned.

“There are no bad guys in this — everybody is working together,” Salmon said. “We’re all in one big camp.”

Swanson confirmed that Bureau/Veritas received the revised plans Jan. 24 and returned them Monday, Feb. 4.

Salmon said there were more questions from Bureau/Veritas on the latest revision. He said the questions would be answered Wednesday, Feb. 6.

“These things typically take a year,” he added. “We’re actually making pretty good progress.”

Smith said time was of the essence in opening the shelter, particularly during winter, and said the city had made a higher priority of expediting projects such as Walmart, which promise to generate revenue for the city.

But City Manager Rod Butler said care must be taken that building plans are done correctly.

“I think they’re getting close,” he said. “But when you’re talking about a shelter facility, we have to be extremely careful about safety and accessibility.”

Contact Nick Rappley at 892-6187, ext. 31, or nick@pattersonirrigator.com.

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