Negotiations between the city of Stockton and the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless for an operational transition to a new provider have seemingly soured in the past few days.
The city announced Tuesday that the shelter, an independent nonprofit entity, intended to close its doors Aug. 15 and declared a local emergency due to the subsequent possibility that the hundreds of people the shelter serves would be displaced.
City staff and shelter leadership indicated to Stocktonia earlier this week that both sides were working cooperatively toward preventing the closure. However, narratives from the city and shelter have since diverged, with the organizations’ public rhetoric becoming more adversarial since the crisis was announced earlier this week.
On Thursday, the city said the shelter had been given a letter to vacate by Aug. 16. In turn, the shelter’s attorney has accused the city of “financially strangling” the shelter to force a closure and transfer of its assets to the city’s preferred provider, St. Mary’s Dining Hall. Both the shelter and St. Mary’s are located just south of downtown Stockton of off South Harrison Street.
The shelter’s attorney, Anthony L. Vignolo, described being “forced” to close the shelter after 40 years of service as a “heart-wrenching decision” for shelter leadership.
“I say ‘forced’ because in reality the City is the one that made that decision when it decided to cut off all funding to the Shelter for the upcoming year, obviously knowing that such a decision would lead to the demise of the Shelter,” Vignolo said in a statement to Stocktonia on Tuesday.
The statement came on the heels of a city press conference earlier in the day where Stockton City Manager Harry Black said there had been conflict between the shelter and the city regarding what should be included in an agreement for reassignment to another operator of the shelter’s sublease for the city-owned land where the shelter is located. Black has said that the city is working with St. Mary’s Dining Room to take over the running of the shelter.
Both St. Mary’s and the shelter were sent an agreement for transfer at the end of last month, Black said. The dining hall signed and returned the agreement to the city Tuesday, he said, while the shelter sent the document back to the city with redlined changes the late following day, “including language that was unacceptable.”
Black described the redlining as an attempt by the shelter to “entangle” the city in the dissolution of the shelter’s nonprofit organization.
“We’re not going to get entangled in their business affairs that don’t relate to the shelter and the sublease,” Black said. “That’s the crux of the issue. I don’t want to get the city entangled in something that’s none of its business and accruing liabilities as a result.”
An email addressed to Stockton’s deputy city attorney provided to Stocktonia by Vignolo says the shelter has not taken any action toward dissolution and that any redlining revisions in the agreement were to note that “the assignment and transfer of the subject assets by (the shelter) would be contingent upon receiving the necessary approvals from the Attorney General’s Office, which again are a legal requirement.”
The shelter encompasses several buildings and other structures on the city-owned land, including a new navigation center that is nearly completed.
Black confirmed that legal action will be taken to recover the shelter’s facilities, which he says are owned by the city, if shelter leadership does not sign the transfer agreement and refuses to vacate the property by the city’s deadline later this month.
Vignolo described the city’s mandate to vacate as an attempt to “strong-arm.” He also criticized city officials for pushing for what he calls a “false narrative” since the shelter’s closure was announced, as well as accusing city leadership of drastically decreasing financial support to the shelter, withholding $1 million in state funds to complete its new navigation center and trying to illegally seize the shelter’s assets.
Stockton officials have consistently said that the shelter’s imminent closure had come as a surprise and caught the city off guard. City Manager Black said the mayor’s office was only informed of the shelter’s imminent closure on July 16 and that he was told a few days later.
“It was one of those situations in which we had to drop everything else and focus solely on this,” Black told Stocktonia earlier this week. “That’s what we’ve been doing for the past two weeks and will continue to do so until we are past this particular emergency situation.”
However, Vignolo has claimed that the city has long been working behind the scenes to bring about the shelter’s demise and is now “presenting itself as a hero to the public.” He described St. Mary’s as the city’s “preferred vendor” and had already been transferring their support to the dinning hall, pointing to the city’s recent multimillion partnership with St. Mary’s to expand its shelter capabilities.
“Unfortunately, the City is seemingly more interested in concealing the truth and painting a false narrative to the community than it is in resolving this matter,” Vignolo said.
During an emergency City Council meeting Thursday night, Black disputed that the city had been “choking (the shelter) financially” and noted that as a city government the city of Stockton has approved just shy of $4 million for the shelter since 2020, which he says the shelter has used very little.
“They have basically drawn down on less than probably a million and a half of it because of their inability, from an administrative standpoint, to get things done,” Black said, adding that one of the challenges the city has with the shelter is its inability to provide clean, accurate invoices that are backed up through documentation.
City Council held the meeting to ratify the Stockton’s local emergency order issued by Black earlier this week due to the shelter’s possible closure.
Councilmember Kimberly Warmsley said at the meeting that, while the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless is a separate entity that Stockton doesn’t necessarily have direct control over, the city may have missed some oversight opportunities.
“That conversation needs to be had, about how we are conducting business and who we are vetting to perform services of this magnitude,” Warmsley said. “Ensuring that systems of care are fully vetted and that fiscal oversight is truly happening.”
Vignolo says the shelter has and remains willing to transfer operations over to Stockton’s “preferred partner.” Though he’s told the city the ball is now in their court.
“If the City wants to resort to bullying and unlawful measures to accomplish its objective, there is no doubt how the story will end — once again,” he said.