Just two weeks ago, Stockton leaders celebrated progress toward finally reducing homelessness, unveiling plans to boost shelter capacity by 326 beds. Then Stockton Shelter for the Homeless pooped on the party. 

The shelter abruptly announced it is closing Aug. 16, displacing 250 people. What happened? Why didn’t the city, landlord of the shelter at 411 S. Harrison Street, see it coming?

“I think that the current model that we have is slightly flawed,” City Manager Harry Black said.

You may not get 100% of the answers from this column. But you’ll learn enough to rubber-stamp Black’s statement. 

The shelter, for the record, is not a city operation. It’s a nonprofit. The city leases the land from the state Department of Transportation, CalTrans; in turn it has subleased it to the shelter for 36 years.

During that time the nonprofit shelter has added millions of dollars’ worth of improvements: various shelters, an administration building, a maintenance shop, etc.

Sharing the grounds is St. Mary’s Dining Room, a separate nonprofit that feeds the hungry and offers health care.

When the shelter announced its imminent closure, the City Council declared a state of emergency. Leaders vowed to keep homeless clients sheltered — though Black added that the shelter wasn’t helping. 

“Right now — which is a challenge — we don’t have access to the staff,” Black said at a press conference. “We would love to have access to the staff, but we don’t.”

The shelter fired back that the city is responsible for the shelter’s demise. The city of Stockton denied the shelter its contribution of operating funds for fiscal 2023-24, “with no explanation or prior notice whatsoever,” said the shelter’s attorney, Anthony Vignolo.

The cash-strapped shelter pursued a merger with St. Mary’s. But St. Mary’s was unwilling to shoulder the responsibilities without three years of funding guarantees. Talks fell apart.

“The Shelter’s Board held an emergency meeting on July 12 and was forced to make the decision to close the facility,” Vignolo said.

Jennifer Held of the shelter board wrote to the city, “Unfortunately, we cannot continue to operate with limited funding and staff leaving to look for secure, stable employment. The magnitude of housing the unsheltered can no longer be carried solely by 12 volunteer board members and private sector operating funding.”

That may not be the whole story. Observers say that there has long been a breakdown of leadership at the shelter, which has seen CEOs and consultants come and go. 

Black alluded to it at the Aug. 3 emergency council meeting.

“As a city government you have approved since 2020 just shy of $4 million worth of funding to the shelter,” Black said then. “They have drawn down less than $1.5 million because of their inability from an administrative standpoint to get things done.”

The latest tranche of money was not approved because shelter staff failed to do the diligent paperwork required for grant funding. “The back and forth with them has been extremely arduous,” Black added.

City and shelter continued to feud over the closure process. 

Stockton City Manager Harry Black addresses the the ssues involving the Homeless Shelter of Stockton during a press conference on Wednesday, Aug. 3 at Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium. (Photo by Robyn Jones)

St. Mary’s, now willing to take over the shelter (though what changed is unclear), signed off on the deal, but Vignolo “redlined,” or added provisions, which Black, advised by the City Attorney’s Office, rejected.

“What has occurred with the redlining is they’re trying to entangle us in their dissolving of the nonprofit, which has nothing to do with the city of Stockton,” Black said. 

Black may have been ill advised. Vignolo redlined two key provisions. One has to do with regulations governing the transfer of assets from one nonprofit to another: the Attorney General’s Office must first okay it. That’s the law.

The second concerned naming rights. Certain large donors were given rights to name the new building. The shelter reasonably wants those rights to be honored.

On Aug. 4, after turning the matter over to outside counsel, the city quietly relented on these points. The naming rights will be honored; the shelter may now request the attorney general’s approval to give its assets to St. Mary’s; to allow time for this process, the city’s deadline for the nonprofit to vacate the premises is moved back to Sept. 1; the city will cover any shortfall in operating expenses until then.

As to why the city failed to see the shelter’s collapse coming, that brings us back to Black’s comment that “the current model that we have is slightly flawed.”

Until now, city officials merely renewed the shelter’s multi-year lease and turned back to municipal affairs. But, “Nonprofits are not a panacea, as though they can do everything alone all the time, and they can’t. They need help,” said Black. He vowed to “reassess … and optimize collaboration.”

That’s a tacit admission the city could have done more to avert this crisis. But it is keeping a roof over 250 heads. That’s the main thing.

Investigative columnist Mike Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. His views do not represent those of the Stocktonia management and staff. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: mfitzgeraldstockton@gmail.com.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks, Mike, for your efforts to explain this apparently inexplicable situation. Sadly, it sounds a lot like the demise of the Impact Teen Center – changing management under contract with the City, unexpected end to Family Resource management agreement during Covid, City takeover without a clear plan. The Teen Center building did get a badly needed new roof, so a future (of some sort) is possible. The City has been supportive of other non-profit programming for teens by donating materials left in the building by former programs. But the bottom line is, as Black stated, nonprofits can’t do everything alone all the time. City funding assistance under agreements with nonprofits providing services are vital, and when those funds disappear, so do the services. I’m encouraged by the preservation of our existing homeless shelter program, and hope that’s a sign we won’t see this sad tale repeated. Now, about that plan to add 250 new beds . . . ?

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