Homelessness is a problem that’s seemingly getting worse instead of improving. According to a study conducted by the City Council in Modesto, California, between 200-250 men and 10-20 women are homeless in Modesto on a nightly basis, with an estimated county wide (Stanislaus County) homeless population of around 7000 persons. Needless to say, that’s a lot of people living on the streets at night. The problem is, nobody really plans on becoming homeless, it just sort of happens for various reasons. If you happen to find yourself in this situation, you might find that options are limited, however, they are out there.
One option if you end up homeless in the Modesto area is the Modesto Union Gospel Mission, located at 1400 Yosemite Blvd. The shelter offers basic necessities such as a bed, showers, clothing, and meals, as well as various programs designed to help homeless folks get back on their feet. The mission is not a government organization and is not supported by any government agency, rather stays afloat through donations from area churches and Christians. I stayed at the mission for a couple nights to get a feel for it, and here is what you can expect if you ever need to use their services:
If you are in need of shelter, you’ll need to show up at the mission at 6:30 pm and get in line. You aren’t allowed on the property until 6:00 pm, so it won’t do you any good to arrive prior to that. Once you are in line, if you are new or haven’t stayed there in awhile, when you are let into the building, you’ll need to get out of line and stand against the wall on the left of the hallway. The staff will register you after they’ve checked in all the men staying at the shelter. You’ll also be provided a disposable razor and a toothbrush. You’ll need a valid ID. If you have a bed already, you simply stay in line and when you get to the window, tell them your bed number so they can circle your name to show that you are present and claiming your bed. If you haven’t done so by 7 pm, your bed will be given away to the next available candidate. Women, women with children, and fathers with children stay in a separate building and should call ahead to check on space availability (209-529-8259.)
Once you have checked in, you’ll head down the hallway and wait in the Chapel until 7. (If you aren’t staying at the mission but only eating, you may skip the check in and proceed directly into the Chapel.) If you have a backpack or some sort of bag or luggage, you’ll check it in at the next window before you go to the Chapel. At the Gospel Mission, it’s all about Jesus, and from seven until eight there is a nightly Chapel Service and you are required to attend. The service is conducted each evening by volunteers from area churches and usually consists of a half-hour of praise and worship (singing and prayer) and a thirty-minute sermon. It is not mandatory to participate, but you are expected to be respectful, remove your headgear, and pay attention (no sleeping.) If you are visibly intoxicated, or under the influence of drugs, you will likely be asked to leave, and there is absolutely zero tolerance for any violence, to include profanity, aggressive behavior, spitting, etc.
As you sit in the Chapel, you will notice several men wearing green shirts standing along the aisles. Do not attempt to engage these men in conversation, as they are enrolled in programs at the mission and are not allowed to speak to you except for calling out row numbers for meals, etc.
After the service is over, the green shirts will begin escorting the congregation into the dining room for dinner. This is organized row by row, so be patient; there is enough food for everyone. Handicapped and women with children are taken to the front of the line.
Dinner is either served by volunteers or by green shirts and usually consists of an entree, a vegetable, bread, desert, and usually orange slices (I’d recommend eating these for the vitamin C, since everyone in the place seems to be sick thanks to constant exposure to the elements,) as well as a soda or juice. Ice water is also available.
After dinner, you’ll head back outside where you can smoke or hang out. Be sure to stay on the sidewalk in front of the shelter and don’t go wandering around the parking lot. After everyone has finished eating and is outside, the staff will call you back inside based upon your bed number (high numbers and low numbers are alternated nightly.) It’s important to listen for your name or number and respond quickly. Once you are called, you’ll go back inside and head upstairs to a counter, where you’ll tell the green shirt working the counter your number. He will then give you a milk crate with your corresponding number on it. Here’s where things become a little tricky and chaotic.
After you get your crate, you are required to take a shower. This is not an option; it is mandatory to do so. You are not allowed to wear your street clothes to bed, so you’ll fold them up and place them into your crate. After you shower, you’ll head to the clothing room, where you’ll pick out something to wear to bed, as well as clothing to wear the next day if you need it. Turn in your crate back at the counter, use the deodorant, toothpaste, and shaving cream provided, and find your bed. Wake up time is daily at 5:45 am. If you require an earlier wake up time, there is a green shirt walking around with a clipboard. Tell him what time you need to be up and he will be sure to wake you at that time. After everyone is in bed and a quick prayer, it’s lights out.
At 5:45 am, you’ll get your crate again and change into your clothing for the day; you’ll also take care of any morning hygiene. Then you may go outside to smoke or go and sit in the Chapel until 6:30, when breakfast is served. Like dinner, this is organized row by row and can consist of anything from oatmeal and biscuits to cold cereal to pancakes. Coffee is available, as well as ice water.
After breakfast, you’ll reclaim any baggage that you turned in and head out into Modesto for the day. You must be off the property by 7 am.
And that’s pretty much what you should expect if you ever need to stay at the mission. If you do not claim your bed by 7 pm, you should be aware that there is a 15 day waiting period before you can come back, same as if you are kicked out for violence or drunken behavior. If you only need clothing, it is distributed Monday-Thursday after 8 am. To enroll in one of the programs, you’ll need to fill out an application at the mission. Otherwise, hopefully, you’ll never find yourself in a position where you need their services, but if you do, you’ll at least now know what to expect once you arrive.