A home for the homeless: 8-unit Pacheco Place officially opens Oct. 2

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comSeptember 20, 2012 

Living in a tent on the Westside has been a way of life for Troy Gottula for the last year.

"It's a full-time job being homeless," the 50-year-old said. "It's nothing easy, if you want to survive."

Gottula was born in Modesto, lived in Colorado Springs, Colo., in a tent for some time and then moved to Dos Palos to stay in a tent in his brother's yard.

A painter by trade, Gottula had a hard time finding work after an assault left him with broken vertebrae.

"It's kind of hard to move around ladders and stuff with a broken back," he said.

He's also battled bouts of anxiety and depression.

A doctor in Dos Palos sent Gottula to the Westside Transitional Center, because it is the only place on the Westside where he could get his medication filled. The center's employees helped him move into Pacheco Place in June.

Pacheco Place is a two-story, eight-unit affordable housing project that services tenants who are homeless and diagnosed with mental health issues.

Its grand opening and dedication is set for Oct. 2.

"I just painted my bathroom," Gottula said. "I'm a painter, and I haven't had a place to paint in a long time."

The 650-square-foot apartments in the 200 block of West J Street each have two bedrooms and come furnished all the way down to dishes, linens, pots and pans.

Manuel Jiménez, director of the Merced County Department of Mental Health, said often clients with mental health disabilities can't work and are living on a fixed income.

"Housing is always an issue with our clients," Jiménez said.

The facility is about a half-mile from the Westside Transitional Center, which provides services, like counseling, help with money management, medication education, job hunting and social activities, among other assistance.

Clients with mental health issues can have inadequate medical and dental care, and a range of unmet needs.

The Merced County Association of Governments, on behalf of the Merced County Community Action Agency, applied for the $281,000 in Housing and Urban Development funding over two years and the Mental Health Services Act matches 25 percent. So the facility is run on $175,625 per year.

The Mental Health Services Act, passed by voters in 2004, funds mental health services by boosting the state income tax by 1 percent on personal income of more than $1 million.

Jiménez said the project is unique in Los Banos, and the county's first to use funding from the act.

The West J Street complex was used for low-income housing before Action Agency purchased it.

Executive Director Brenda Callahan-Johnson said four of the units have tenants, including the manager.

The apartments are designed for people who are diagnosed with mental health issues and homeless or at risk of being homeless. The current tenants -- two single, and one with a child -- were living on the street before becoming residents, she said.

"We're open to any family makeup, but the reality is most people homeless for an amount of time -- the family unit is broken up," Callahan-Johnson said.

A count in January identified 75 homeless people in Los Banos, and about 60 percent of people who are homeless have mental health issues.

Gottula said the apartments allow him to be close to Westside Transitional Center, where there's camaraderie and empathy. Gottula said he's made plans with the other tenants, and future tenants, to make use of the barbecue pit and picnic tables on the lawn.

"I'm really looking forward to the new tenants moving in," Gottula said. "It's kind of like a family, you know?"

The agencies plan a grand-opening ceremony for Pacheco Place, 232 W. J St., at 2 p.m. Oct. 2. The public is welcome for a tour and testimonies, organizers said.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

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