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Daily struggle for shelter & food
You can make $15 an hour & still be homeless
Heidi Folstrom, left, and Frank Rodrigues were talking Monday during the noon hour at the Library Park gazebo. - photo by DENNIS WYATT
Frank Rodrigues works loading freight trucks.

The 56-year-old said he has a good employer that pays him $15 an hour when there is work.

It hasn’t been enough, though, to allow him to cover monthly rent. A cousin not too long ago opened his home to him in part because the relative was on the verge of not being able to keep a roof over his head either.
Rodrigues is part of Manteca’s homeless, or as Police Chief Dave Bricker correctly notes, day-time homeless who have a place to stay with relatives or friends but have no place to go during the day.

“A lot of the homeless in Manteca have jobs,” Rodrigues said. “You can’t pay rent with an $8 an hour job.”

Even if it is reliable work and a homeless person can pay the rent but they can’t pay is the prerequisite deposit.

Rodrigues dropped by Library Park on the noon hour Monday where he sat down on the gazebo steps with a can of Pepsi in hand. He greeted an acquaintance - Heidi Folstrom - who is “full blown” homeless.

She worked for several months at McDonald’s and then was sick for three days in a row and couldn’t produce the required doctors’ note because she couldn’t afford a doctor and doesn’t have insurance. Over the years she’s been self-employed as a processor server who was an independent contractor with the State of California. She is not collecting unemployment nor is she on the public dole. She makes do with a spousal support check while she hits the library every chance she gets to access the Internet in her never ending quest for a job.

“I slept in the rain Sunday,” said the 1982 Manteca High graduate who also was once a cheerleader for the Buffaloes. “It’s not because I wanted to. I had no other choice.”

Occasionally, Folstrom will spend $50 for a motel room. But food can often be a higher priority as she occasionally goes two, three or four days without eating.

Her 15- and 17-year-old children are living with their grandmother as Folstrom notes she has no means of supporting them. She had gone to Los Angeles last year looking for a job but was unsuccessful and returned to Manteca.

“Most people think the homeless are people passing through,” she said. “I’ve lived in Manteca most of my life. I lost it all. And I’m looking for a job.”

It’s not an easy search. With unemployment in Manteca at 14.5 percent in August there is plenty of competition for what jobs become available.

Rodrigues, who considers himself fortunate for being able to work, noted older people have a rough time trying to land a job.

“You’re too old, you have too many skills or you don’t have enough skills,” Rodrigues said.

Rodriguez had been paying $875 a month for rent on an apartment near Greenbriar Avenue in Central Manteca. He is currently handling a $300 a month payment on a 2007 pick-up truck. To save money for when he needs it for inclement weather to get to his job, Rodrigues will bicycle 20 miles round trip to work.

Vehicle accident led to being homeless
Rodrigues came to Manteca from the Bay Area for a job. He was doing fine until a vehicle accident in 2002 put him on disability.

Folstrom had been sleeping in her car but then it blew a gasket. When she was unable to pay for tags, it drew the attention of law enforcement that eventually towed the vehicle.

“I don’t know of anyone who sleeps in Library Park,” she said. “They go to places like the Mexican (Southside) Park and other places to sleep.”

 “Something needs to be done to help the homeless,” Rodrigues said.

Folstrom has her own ideas on how to do that. She pointed across the park to a vacant Cel-Pril warehouse backing up to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

 “The city should open that up so people have a place to sleep out of the cold,” Folstrom said.

That is not as easy as it may seem.

Dave Thompson, executive director of HOPE Family Shelters, notes one “walks a narrow path” in opening such a shelter.

“You want to find ways to help the local homeless without attracting them from out of town,” said Thompson who retired in 2000 as a Manteca Police sergeant. “It could very quickly fill up with homeless who haven’t been around here.”

Thompson said that is what he is convinced will happen if such a shelter was opened in Manteca based on discussions he’s had with directors of men’s homeless shelters in nearby communities including Stockton.

He noted that there is already a perception that people in the Manteca community are more generous than many other places.

Thompson pointed to one couple that begs - the woman bows her head and appears to be crying - as a prime example.

“They have their own car and they drive to Manteca from Stockton because they believe people are more generous here,” Thompson said. “I don’t know if they have a place to live in Stockton.”

As things are now, Manteca isn’t really attracting “wandering” homeless.

“Manteca isn’t a very hospitable place to go if you’re homeless,” Thompson noted. “The homes we have here have been around for a long time.”

No room at the shelter for Folstrom
Thompson said that 67 percent of the homeless the HOPE Shelters help are from Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon with many holding jobs already.

HOPE Family Shelters wouldn’t be of help to a woman like Folstrom since her children are not with her. The shelters are open to families as well as mothers with children.

“The local homeless singles have stopped calling because they know we  do not take them,” Thompson said. “We’re getting five to eight calls a day from families or single moms with families looking for a place to stay.”

Currently, the HOPE Shelter on Yosemite Avenue is empty due to a planned rehab project. Thompson said if the city approval process and funding will take much longer period than anticipated, they will open the shelter back up until such time it needs to be closed for work to take place.”

Rodrigues noted the solution for Manteca’s homeless is not to call Stockton to see if they have space available.

By the time they (the Manteca homeless) get there the shelters are all full,” he said.

Thompson said one solution might be to develop a drop-in shelter where those on the street can stop by for a few hours, clean-up, take showers, and have a meal. It also would serve as a place they could receive mail or use as a reference point in their search for a job.

As for troublemakers at Library Park, Folstrom said they are mostly teens or once in awhile a homeless person passing through who is belligerent. She noted the shooting and stabbings that happened at Library Park were done by two young people, one a gang member and the other a 21-year-old suspect.

City still paying to charge cell phones
Folstrom has received a citation she says she can’t afford to pay for staying at Library Park after it closed. Another time she was cited for having an open container in the park. She said it was on the far side of the gazebo where she happened to be sitting with other homeless.

“The police are always down there hassling the homeless,” she said adding that the signs posting the park closing hours weren’t up until recently.

The city has also switched grass watering schedule to discourage lingering after the park closes.

Folstrom bristles at one city tactic to discourage the homeless form hanging out at Library Park: The cutting of power to the gazebo. It is where the homeless plugged in their cell phones to recharge them.

“They say I’m not a taxpayer and that I’m stealing electricity,” she said. “I pay taxes. Every time I buy a candy bar or a soda I’m paying taxes.”

Despite the efforts to cut of power to the gazebo, the city is still actually providing electricity to charge her phone. She simply plugs it in when she uses the library where the city picks up maintenance costs and every expense associated with the building including electricity.