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Modesto's Tent City Becoming Model For Housing Homeless

MODESTO (CBS13) - Cities across the state are eyeing Modesto's methods of tackling homelessness. Its tent city has become a model that officials from Sacramento to the Bay area are now studying.

"Whenever you can find a large population of homeless, and connect them with services, decrease the calls for law enforcement elsewhere its a good thing," said Modesto city spokesperson Thomas Reeves.

Under the 9th Street Bridge is where the tent city is set up, 300 tents that hold about 400 people but it's the services and resources being pumped into the operation daily that's garnering attention from across the state.

READ: State Groundskeepers Attacked By Downtown Sacramento Homeless

KC Obert, 31, has been living in this tiny town of blue uniform 10-foot-by-10-foot tents for a few weeks; he says it's a huge relief from what he's been used to -- living along the Tuolomne River.

"On the streets, anything can happen; out here, it's more secure and you feel safer," said Obert.

It's a low-barrier emergency shelter operation that doesn't have a lot of rules and there's no drug testing. People can come with what they want, and who they want.

"It gets them in one spot; we have a captured audience. We've got a place to get them services, and that's key," said Modesto County Supervisor Terry Withrow.

There are dozens of portable bathrooms, wash stations, daily deliveries of food and clothing from non-profits, and a host of services from medical checkups to groups helping the homeless find jobs.

"Shelters aren't the answer; until we get services to these people that have severe drug and mental health issues, we'll never make any headway," said Withrow.

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It's a model that's drawing interest at a time when counties across California struggle to deal with the homeless crisis.

"We've had a lot of inquiries, emails, phone calls from staff from counties and cities across the state," said Reeves.

He adds, "They're basically asking if this is working for us."

Sacramento City Councilman Jeff Harris says he was never a fan of the tent city model, but he recently took a team of 12 people to tour the Modesto space and recognized its benefits: from cleaner streets to decreasing drug sales.

"Drug sales are a huge problem among the homeless. if we get them in a focused tent encampment with a perimeter fence, we can't end drug sales, but we can drop them down to a dull roar," said Councilman Harris.

Harris says as cities like Sacramento struggle to house their homeless, the tent city is an interim solution.

"There are so many people outdoors that if we wait till we have money to build shelter beds for everyone we're gonna wait years," said Harris.

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"It gives them a place every night, every day to stay in, in the heat in the winter, a room over their head," said Withrow.

As for safety, Withrow says, "We have 24 hours security, we have a fence around the location."

The tent city has had its share of issues. A fire was started in a tent, there have been fights, but with 400 people living in a confined space, officials say those problems have been minimal.

And for Obert that sense of security is priceless, giving him a second chance at life.

"I definitely want to get out of here, and I will. I'm not giving up," he said.

The tent city is not permanent. In fact, the city and county plan on shutting it down by the end of the year. They believe they have found alternate housing options and enough spots to relocate this population.

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