A new Stockton project is set to bring hundreds of temporary shelter units to the parking lot of St. Mary’s Dining Room for people facing housing insecurities.

The units, known as “low barrier shelters,” place minimal requirements on their residents, unlike other shelters that have stricter rules such as sobriety or no pets.

At a news conference Monday inside the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium, county and city leaders gathered to unveil the “Pathways Project.”

The more than $16 million project is a partnership between St. Mary’s Dining Room — an organization that feeds the hungry, the city of Stockton, San Joaquin County, Health Plan of San Joaquin, and Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center.

Design plans for the Pathways Project at St, Mary’s Dining Room are displayed during a July 24, 2023, news conference. The St. Mary’s parking lot will host communities of approximately 20 units each that will share common amenities such as a kitchenette, meeting room and outdoor space. Sections within each community will be designated for women, seniors, and guests with specific recuperative care needs. (Victoria Franco/ Bay City News)

Communities of approximately 20 units will share common space that includes a kitchenette, meeting room, and outdoor space. Sections within a community will be designated for guests with specific needs such as women, seniors and those needing recuperative care after being discharged from a hospital.

“The Pathways Initiative embodies these key ingredients: vision cooperation, collaboration, strategy, and action,” Stockton City Manager Harry Black said. “The only way that we’re going to beat this problem is collectively.”

Three hundred temporary shelter units will be constructed to serve up to 600 unhoused people a year and 50 units will be set aside for unsheltered people being discharged from a hospital, according to Petra Linden, CEO of St. Mary’s Dining Room.

Linden said people are allowed to stay for up to six months while assessments are completed and the partners involved in the project look for permanent housing solutions.

A personal journey

Sitting in attendance at the project’s announcement was Maria Castellanos, a Health Ambassador for St. Mary’s Dining Room. However, prior to working there she was one of the unsheltered people living outside of St. Mary’s Dining Room inside a tent.

“I hold homelessness very dearly in my heart,” Castellanos said. “My safety and security were out the door once I became homeless.”

She said she believes that the new pathway units could make a big difference because people are going to be able to feel safe, resulting in more life changes.

Petra Linden, CEO of St. Mary’s Dining Room, speaks at the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium on Monday about the Pathways Initiative that will create 300 temporary shelter units for unhoused people. Linden said that during the planning stages conversations were held with unhoused people to assess their specific needs for the project. (Victoria Franco/ Bay City News)

“(People) are going to be able to have a good night’s rest, wake up and be able to face the day. … ‘Now I can go look for a job, I can go to the doctor’s appointments, I can have my medication here, now I don’t have to be on survival mode,’” Castellanos said.

The project is slated to break ground this fall and open a year after that with the help of Siegfried Engineering of Stockton.

According to Linden, when identifying the need for certain spaces, they have had conversations with unhoused people who said things like that they wanted an area for seniors away from the general public or requested an area just for women who do not want to be integrated with a male population, as well as special areas for couples and/or animal owners.

‘It did not just happen overnight’

At the podium, Linden shared a story about one of the users of the dining hall who could greatly benefit from having the units built.

She said a 62-year-old woman in a wheelchair has been with the dining room for several years and as of late began struggling with some dementia as well as numerous medical conditions.

“She’s got more than a dozen medications she needs to teach take each day. … As you can imagine, that’s very difficult in a traditional shelter setting,” Linden said. “(With the units) she could have her own place where she could have her medication settled, we could come see her every day, make sure she’s getting what she needs, check in with her.”

“I hold homelessness very dearly in my heart. My safety and security were out the door once I became homeless.”

Maria Castellanos, St. Mary’s Dining Room health ambassador

Chairman of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, Robert Rickman said the partnership will help address homelessness, which has become a humanitarian crisis.

“It did not just happen overnight, and many factors contributed to the crisis throughout the county and state,” Rickman said.

According to Rickman, the investments made by the county the last two years alone will result in the addition of over 700 new units of permanent supportive housing and increased shelter capacity countywide by 166 percent.

Funding for the project came from St. Mary’s Dining Room receiving $6.5 million from the Board of Supervisors through the city of Stockton, $3.6 million from the city of Stockton, $5.4 million from the Health Plan of San Joaquin, and $2 million from Dignity Health.

Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. She is a Report for America corps member.

Victoria Franco is a Stockton-based reporter covering the diverse news around the Central Valley as part of the Report for America program. As a Stockton native, Franco is proud to cover stories within her community and report a variety of coverage. She is a San Jose State University alumna with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism. In her collegiate years she was Managing Editor for the Spartan Daily. From her time at the Spartan Daily she helped lead her staff to California College Media Awards and a General Excellence first place. Victoria encourages readers to email her story tips and ideas at victoria.franco@baycitynews.com.