Modesto dedicates new housing for homeless youth in former downtown office space

Alphreia Patterson nearly cried Tuesday morning when she saw for the first time her new, permanent home for her and her 18-month-old son, Samuel.

“So far, I think that this is really perfect,” the 24-year-old said before the start of the dedication of the conversion of a downtown Modesto office building into 14 apartments for people ages 18 to 25 who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness.

“The artwork is beautiful,” Patterson said of the mural on the building’s exterior to set it apart along a commercial and industrial section of Ninth Street. “The inside (of the apartment) is beautiful. It’s well-maintained. It’s everything someone needs when they are just barely moving from being homeless into proper housing. ... It’s perfect for my son. He’s going to love it.”

Alphreia Patterson and son Samuel will be moving into their own one bedroom apartment.
Alphreia Patterson and son Samuel will be moving into their own one bedroom apartment.

The single mom was among the more than 100 people at the grand opening and dedication of the nearly $5.4 million project, with almost $4 million of it coming from Project Homekey, the state’s initiative to provide permanent housing with services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

That can include converting motels and vacant buildings into housing or constructing housing.

Modesto worked with the Center for Human Services in applying for the nearly $4 million. The other funding came from the city and the Stanislaus Community System of Care, which is made up of local governments, nonprofits and others that work toward ending homelessness.

The project’s capital costs were $4.1 million, including construction, and $1.3 million is set aside for 15 years of operating costs.

Human Services has a Youth Navigation Center that helps teens and young adults in crisis. Crises can include not having stable housing or experiencing homelessness.

CHS also provides low-barrier shelter and temporary transitional housing. The Ninth Street project is the last step toward getting them into permanent housing.

Helping the vulnerable

CHS Executive Director Cindy Duenas told those gathered at the ceremony that providing permanent housing with services for homeless youth is a way to prevent them from joining the ranks of the chronically homeless.

“Today we take one more step toward meeting our goal of ending youth homelessness in Stanislaus County,” Duenas said. “This project is a testament of what can happen when you have concerned citizens who join with private and public organizations to come up with creative solutions.”

Mayor Sue Zwahlen referenced the Bible’s Gospel of Matthew in her remarks before city and county officials, nonprofit representatives, CHS clients and others. “We have read the words, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me,’” the mayor said.

“... There is no higher calling than taking care of our community’s most vulnerable,” Zwahlen said. “And homeless children and youth are some of our most vulnerable.”

Duenas thanked city officials and others, including Brad Hawn, a homeless advocate and former Modesto councilman.

Hawn and his wife were one-third owners of the office building at 1208 Ninth St. Duenas said she approached him with the idea of converting it into housing.

The 7,446-square-foot Ninth Street building sold for $780,000, according to a real estate public records database. The Center for Human Services now owns it. A consultant the state provided the city to help it apply for Project Homekey funding has said the sales price would be based on a third-party independent appraisal.

Studio apartment part of the 14 unit complex in Modesto, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.
Studio apartment part of the 14 unit complex in Modesto, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

Assessed for permanent housing

Duenas said Hawn, who is a civil and structural engineer, designed the project and managed its construction at no cost. He has done similar work for free on other homelessness projects.

Hawn told the gathering the goal was to provide housing where people would be proud to live in. He added that there are many other vacant buildings across the city that can be turned into housing.

The Center for Human Services will provide residents with case management and other services to help them take the next steps in their lives, but there is no deadline for when they have to leave.

The tenants are part of the county’s coordinated entry system in which people who seek help from homelessness service providers are assessed. The needs assessment includes determining whether they are ready for permanent housing.

Duenas said that in a county of roughly 550,000 people, there are 357 young people in the coordinated entry system. “That’s a solvable problem,” she said. “We can develop the right kind of housing inventory for these young people and solve youth homelessness.”

The project consists of 10 studio and four one-bedroom apartments. They come fully furnished, including kitchenettes. Residents pay no more than 30% of their income for rent, which includes water, sewer, garbage and wi-fi. Residents will be billed for gas and electric.

The apartments are for low-income tenants, and the rents will be subsidized.

The property manager will live in one of the apartments. The Stanislaus County Affordable Housing Corp. will manage the site. The hope is that one of the residents could be the property manager. Residents are expected to start moving in next week.

Ribbon cutting opening the 14 unit complex with Cindy Duenas and other local leaders in Modesto, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.
Ribbon cutting opening the 14 unit complex with Cindy Duenas and other local leaders in Modesto, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

Goal is to become a doctor

Patterson — the 24-year-old single mom — said in an interview before Tuesday’s ceremony that she had struggled with permanent housing since her late teens, living in motels, cars and temporary housing provided through nonprofits and government programs. She said she and her son are now living in a motel the county converted into temporary housing.

Patterson said her mental health issues have hindered her ability to live independently but has been receiving mental health services and other assistance. She said she gets by on cash aid from the county and financial aid from Modesto Junior College.

She’s in her third semester at MJC and wants to become a pediatrician, Patterson said. Having housing gives her the foundation for her and her son to have a better life, she added.

Patterson’s stepmom (Patterson’s mom died when she was 16) and sisters also have struggled in recent years with housing, but they all now have permanent, affordable places to live.

“She’s the last one of us,” stepmom Asia Robinson said at Tuesday’s ceremony, referring to Patterson now having a home. “I’m so happy.”