Last week it was home to more than half-a-dozen people who had turned it into a makeshift camp.
And now it’s gone – nothing more than razed dirt, strewn garbage and a patch of ground that just days ago housed bushes and trees and makeshift shelters.
Just off of Moffatt Boulevard – what was once the main drag into Manteca for highway travelers who were passing through the heart of California – sits a strip of property that has become one of more than a dozen places in town that the homeless have claimed as their own.
It’s nothing flashy. But it’s out of the way and there are really only two access points and that provides as much security as anybody can ask for when you don’t have the luxury of living behind a locked door.
But there’s a problem.
It’s Caltrans property.
Last week the California Department of Transportation sent out crews to roust the people who were living in their right of way next to where the Highway 120 Bypass crosses over Moffat Boulevard. The fence that was cut to allow access for bicycles and carts is still wide open, but the trees that provided a decent amount of shelter and cover for those that called it home – shielding the encampment from the view of the approaching until you were basically on top of it – are gone.
The bushes that served as a stringing point for clotheslines are gone.
The structures themselves – gone.
All that remains are a bunch of pieces of trash that have been pushed down into the dirt, presumably by the machines that hauled out most of what was erected back here and used to carry away the shrubbery that turned it into a destination for those looking to escape the watchful eyes of the Manteca Police Department when they were actively enforcing the city’s “no camping” ordinance.
But it’s a game of whack-a-mole.
According to “Ralph” – who asked not to have his last name used – every time an encampment gets cleared out another one will pop up somewhere else. Sometimes those are in plain sight where most people wouldn’t’ think to look, he said, and other times – with enough advanced warning – they’re already prepared for when the inevitable ultimately comes.
They’re prepped. They’re dug out. They’re protected like the nuclear launch codes to prevent others from getting the same idea. It’s a luxury that you have when you’re constantly thinking about where to go next.
“There’s always somewhere else to go,” Ralph said. “And then there’s somewhere to go after that.”
At least for this week that doesn’t include the Caltrans right-of-way along Moffat Boulevard that backs up to the Juniper Apartments.
Maybe there’s something to clearing out the brush that provides the cover necessary for people to set up camp there. And if Caltrans keeps pushing on – notifying those who were living near the underpass last week that they would be coming to clear it out – they could very well end up taking a proactive swipe at the issue that has been annoying business owners in Spreckels Park and along Moffatt Boulevard for months.
Time will tell.