Coalition of Tracy Citizens to Assist the Homeless recently leased the house at 26 W. Emerson Ave. and is preparing it to accept up to six men and four women on its opening day, July 1, according to coalition director Marvin Rothschild.
The homeless occupants will stay at the residence for a transitional period of about a year while they secure their own employment, income and housing. It’s the only home in Tracy that reportedly accepts single men and single women. McHenry House Family Shelter, 757 A St., only assists homeless families, no more than seven at a time.
About 20 neighbors and residents living on and around the first block of West Emerson Avenue gathered at the home Wednesday night —
following an invite by the coalition — to voice their opposition to the project.
Rothschild said the coalition organized the gathering to “explain, not justify” to concerned neighbors the purpose and goals of the project.
Guillermo Rodriguez, who lives two houses from the planned home, said the majority of neighbors at the gathering learned about the home when it was first reported by the Tracy Press on June 22.
“I’m frightened, and this is our neighborhood, and we feel that they are a threat to our neighborhood,” he said. “We have young kids, we have the elderly. We have a good neighborhood here.”
In the June 22 article, pastor Tom Bardwell — who was recruited by Rothschild to oversee the house — said the coalition chose the home after “receiving the blessing from neighbors.” He and Rothschild reportedly knocked on neighbors’ doors seeking input.
From the meeting’s start Wednesday, tempers ran high, as several neighbors vehemently denied that such a “blessing” was offered.
Many neighbors claimed they were never contacted by the two men and felt that the group misrepresented the sentiment of the neighborhood in the June 22 article.
“You’re not going to get any sympathy here, I’m sorry, about where to place your housing and helping the homeless,” said Elaine Adams, a nearby resident. “You’ve had other choices, you look at the one and maybe two, so no sympathy.”
When confronted, Bardwell said that he was misquoted in the article and that while he accompanied Rothschild, the men spoke to at least two people.
As of Thursday, June 28, Bardwell had not made a claim to the Tracy Press about being misquoted.
Rothschild said he and Bardwell visited “four or five houses next to us and around us.”
“We got some answers and some not home,” Rothschild said. “We figured that was far enough. Maybe on second hindsight, I should have gone down the block.”
When pressed further, Rothschild said, “They said OK, the man over there,” before he was cut off by angry neighbors.
Guillermo Rodriguez’s wife, Glorya, told the men, “That was not blessing.”
She and her husband presented Rothschild with a petition with more than 100 signatures against the opening of the home.
Glorya Rodriguez said the home’s future occupants — many of whom live on the streets, in vehicles or on the couches of friends and family — would pose a threat to a neighborhood that is home to children, elderly and the Tracy Learning Center, a kindergarten-to-12th-grade school, about two blocks away.
She was also concerned about potential health issues that the occupants could present, including tuberculosis.
Sue Langdon, a Coalition board member, said the group would conduct background checks and deny living space to any violent criminals, gang members or sex offenders. Tuberculosis immunizations will be given to occupants, she said.
Other strict rules governing the occupants include no drugs, alcohol or pets. The Coalition also explained that occupants would be subject to random drug tests, a curfew and nightly bed checks. A 30-day probation period during which no friends are allowed in the house will also be enforced.
Adams said an explanation from the coalition was too late.
“What we are concerned about is that we don’t want the house to be anything,” she said. “What you’re telling me now doesn’t matter, because we don’t want it. You’re talking to us after the fact.”
Several neighbors were concerned about overcrowding in the home and asked why 10 people — and a full-time live-in house manager — would be living in the single-family home. The men would be situated in the front home, while the women would live in a one-bedroom loft building in the backyard.
Alan Bell, a senior planner for the city of Tracy, said at the meeting that the home use was approved under the neighborhood’s medium-density zoning. City code dictates that as many as 16 people can live in the house and still meet fire code.
Steve Abercrombie, a Tracy city councilman, said he attended the meeting after hearing from several neighbors. He said the City Council didn’t need to approve the use of the residence because it meets city codes and ordinances.
Lee Stopka’s mother lives next door to the home, and Lee owns the property. She was upset that the city of Tracy’s codes and ordinances would allow a single-family home to be used as a boarding house.
“I know you are supposed to be helping people and that there is a need for the homeless in Tracy,” she said. “But this is not the place. They should be downtown, where the police are nearby and they are next to picking up a bus and the stores are around. That’s where they should be, and not in the middle of a residential area.”
Volunteer house manager Preston Walker told neighbors that his 23 years working with homeless, in addition to his former experience as a firefighter and Alameda County reserve deputy sheriff, made him qualified to manage the home.
He is also state certified to prepare food for the home’s occupants and said he has a doctorate in clinical psychology and a doctorate in pastoral counseling.
“When it comes to safety, that is taken care of within me” he said. “I am polished in doing this, and nobody can get past me under the influence.”
Langdon claimed that many of the neighbors were stereotyping the homeless and that the residence was for people needing temporary help, not drug addicts from the streets.
“These are good, law-abiding
citizens — I don’t think you have all the facts of who is going to be living here,” she said. “I think you have a lot of misconceived ideas of a lot of the homeless people in Tracy.”
Langdon and Rothschild each told neighbors at separate times that the coalition invited them to the house as a courtesy and the Coalition didn’t need a formal blessing from them.
Guillermo Rodriguez said he was “disappointed” that Bardwell didn’t address the crowd. Bardwell left about 45 minutes into the two-hour meeting to reportedly teach a class.
“You know what, I think everybody made up their minds after the way they (the Coalition) did this,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t want it here. The reverend especially, because he is supposed to run this and he didn’t even speak. What is that about?”
According to Rothschild, the home will open as scheduled and the possibility of single overnight stays by homeless people has been nixed.