Nearly 100 residents came out to the Community United Methodist Church Thursday night, July 23 to hear representatives of the Oakdale Rescue Mission lead a discussion on the homeless in the city.
The rescue mission, which started out feeding the homeless at Wood Park 10 years ago, also did Sunday lunches at the city’s annex building for several years. That annex building has now been sold so the group has moved to St. Matthias Episcopal Church at 101 S. First Ave., where it still hosts the Sunday meals. The group also distributes sack lunches a couple of times a week at different locations in the city and there is a Friday evening dinner at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Jonyce O’Neill of the organization said the group is assisted by other church organizations and feeds between 15 to 25 individuals each time.
“I get to know these people, one on one,” O’Neill said.
Pam Kelly said the combination of groups works as “one church body” during the meal distributions.
Kelly expanded, stating the objective of the Oakdale Rescue Mission was “just not doling stuff out” as the group assists many individuals with obtaining government assistance such as social security, county health coverage, and obtaining proper identification for employment.
Kelly described many of those that she’s provided assistance to as having made bad choices or being in situations beyond their control resulting in “broken lives.”
“We can leap at making assumptions on the consequences of their lives or accept we do not know their circumstances,” Kelly said. “Regardless of the circumstances we can still do something, but if we do nothing, their circumstances won’t change.”
In talking about the group’s vision moving forward, Pastor Reese VanderVeen told the group that Oakdale’s homeless shouldn’t be lumped into one kind of stereotype.
VanderVeen said that the mission’s vision was “not just to give another meal.”
“Our vision is to provide mentored, caring relationships for the foundation of lasting success stories,” VanderVeen said, adding that the group was no longer able to use the city annex building and was looking for a permanent place to operate out of, with St. Matthias possibly only an interim solution. “As you can imagine there’s a lot of fear and anxiety of ‘that better not be in my backyard.’”
VanderVeen presented the group’s goal of a mobile trailer that would be able to provide portable shower and laundry facilities to those they assisted. He said the trailer, which is yet to be purchased or built, would be used one to three days per week depending on its success.
In addition to the Oakdale Rescue Mission, representatives from the Family Support Network, Center for Human Services, along with Chief Lester Jenkins of the Oakdale Police Department and City Manager Bryan Whitemyer were also on hand to answer questions.
When called upon to speak, Chief Jenkins said a long term solution was needed to deal with the homeless and the problem wasn’t going to go away.
Jenkins also said the ones that were breaking into houses and cars were not so much “the homeless” as they were “drug addicts” looking to support their habit.
Jenkins, who said he didn’t want the homeless living in the city parks or by the river, believed a concrete solution was needed for the individuals to get out of the situation they were in.
When the topic of recent city ordinances on playground areas in parks and dumpster diving was brought up, Chief Jenkins said he very much supported the park ordinance, pointing out that numerous syringes and other hazardous drug paraphernalia was becoming commonplace in the Dorada Park play areas.
When one audience member appeared to be baiting Jenkins into a response about the dumpster ordinance being hypocritical because the homeless have no way of paying any fines, Jenkins replied, “Laws are passed and I have to see they are enforced reasonably. The officers have discretion and do a good job with that discretion.”
Whitemyer told the group that city costs are high with the homeless problem with its draw on city resources such as the police or the costs associated with river clean ups from the waste and garbage just strewn along the area.
“We all want a nice place to live,” Whitemyer said, noting the homeless also choose Oakdale because of the type of city it is. “We will fight the good fight to keep our town clean and so our children can also benefit.”
VanderVeen said the Oakdale Rescue Mission is working with Stanislaus County, stating more resources could be in play.
When asked about the group’s expertise with the homeless, VanderVeen described the Oakdale Rescue Mission as a fledgling organization with strong communication with other faith