As the year comes to an end with its cold weather, community leaders are showing an interest in the welfare of Oakdale’s homeless population.
At the Dec. 20 Oakdale City Council meeting, Mayor Pat Paul challenged Oak Valley Church Pastor Eric Jensen to assist and help the city’s homeless that have become much more noticeable throughout the streets and parks.
Jensen told Paul he had anticipated using grant money the city was thought to have received, only to later be pulled aside by Oakdale Police Chief Marty West and informed they were not awarded the grant.
“My dream was to use the grant money with community groups to do a long-term set-up,” said Jensen. “I planned to get a clearinghouse system with a coordinator and volunteer to help walk through the process.”
Jensen said often, mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse on the part of the homeless are a factor in getting individuals to stay at a shelter. Many times when arrangements are made for a homeless person they contact, the individual won’t stay or go to the arranged location.
“We have no authority to make them stay or go,” said Jensen.
Currently Jensen uses Jerry’s Motel on East F Street for someone needing shelter for a few days.
“Basically, we give them a Band-Aid, in essence, as a temporary fix,” said Jensen. “Nothing we do now is long-term.”
The pastor said there are other church organizations in the area that are also active with Oakdale’s homeless, citing the food bank at the Church of Nazarene and the Community United Methodist Church’s feeding of the homeless in the park. He said the Oakdale Ministerial Association is working together to coordinate efforts to pool resources without duplicating efforts.
Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul called the city’s homeless problem “heart wrenching” and said she hopes the local churches can get involved.
“Churches support needy causes,” Paul said. “I encourage them to look in their own backyard.”
Paul, who is active with the Spirit of Oakdale that puts on the annual Thanksgiving feast open to all area residents, plans on challenging civic groups at council meetings for the betterment of the city.
“Government may not always have the answers,” she said. “I call on the community.”
William Mallory of The Almond Pavilion said he has seen an influx of the homeless in the area of his establishment. He said they have been camping out near the stores and under a constructed walkway and he has even seen tents at the nearby park. He said he has called the police department but does not feel it was effective.
“The police officers told me, ‘where would you put them?’ ” Mallory said. “I don’t think that’s my problem.
“Am I supposed to build a big fence to keep them out?” asked Mallory. “I don’t want to do that.”
Mallory said he likes the idea of local churches getting involved and would like to see a shelter similar to what is available in Modesto.
With New Years parties planned, Mallory was also concerned with the appearance of the area with so many homeless individuals in the vicinity. He is also concerned with the waste and garbage in the park as a result.
Mayor Paul added she was not pleased when Porta-Potties were set up at the parks.
“That’s not what I want as a first impression when someone sees the park or thinks about Oakdale,” she said.