It was gone.
The foliage removed, the ground tilled and the remnants of the illegal homeless encampment alongside the 120 Bypass strewn about everywhere as a reminder of what used to be there.
But one thing that Caltrans crews didn’t do when they ousted the homeless that had set up semi-permanent residence there – including one man that had built a functional wood-burning stove in his dwelling – was fix the cut fence that allowed access.
And now, just weeks later, the homeless have once again moved back in and set-up shop in what appears to be a cat-and-mouse game between authorities trying to weed them out and the people who are seemingly ingenious when it comes to ways to find a place to lay their head at night.
Welcome to the new nightmare.
It wasn’t always this way for Diana Schober and Norman Williams.
The couple, who have now settled in the area on the west side of Moffat Boulevard after moving from the eastern portion that has become somewhat of a shanty town, had a child together more than two decades ago, and while their love story might not be the conventional one you see in romantic comedies, it’s something that works for them.
There are flowers on display outside of their makeshift hut. There are plants arranged in an impromptu garden that Williams always manages to find on his travels and bring back to Schober who holds down the fort when he’s out and about.
Because, it seems, there’s no honor amongst the less fortunate among us.
“People will just go through and take everything that you have,” Schober said. “It happens all the time, so you have to be careful about who you let around because things will just start disappearing.”
Neither said how they ended up on the street, but both told a tale about how hard it is to get back to the humdrum that so many people to take for granted.
For one, their very overnight presence within Manteca’s city limits is technically illegal, and they are always worried about whether they’re going to be evicted and forced to pack up what little they have and move to another place only to face the same fears all over again.
And with an explosion in tent camping and makeshift structures in visible areas, the general attitude towards the homeless, they say, has shifted – especially since a homeless man has essentially taken over the sidewalk in front of the McDonald’s drive-thru on East Yosemite Avenue in a push to make a point in his civil rights lawsuit filed against the city.
“You get used to it,” Schober said of the looks from people in town. “But this isn’t something that I would have chosen for myself – I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
“Aside from being away from my kids, you’re constantly in fear that every time you leave you’re going to come back to your camp either being gone completely, or that people are going to come in and take everything that you have. It’s not a nice feeling.”
But Williams doesn’t think that the tactics being used by some of those who set up shop near the McDonalds is necessarily the best way to get a point across.
Scaring people and driving them away from businesses, he said, only makes it more difficult for the others who are out on the streets trying to survive – even if they don’t agree with the fact they’ve been made “illegal” under ordinances passed by the city council.
And while he said he doesn’t necessarily enjoy being forced to move, he doesn’t hold any grudges against the Manteca Police Department who are out doing their jobs, and specifically stated that he has nothing but respect for Officer Mike Kelley and the way that he treats everybody he comes across like human beings.
“You get really far in this world by just respecting people,” Williams said. “I try to be as humble as I can possibly be – treating everybody like people because they deserve that and you always want to be treated the same way.
“Sometimes I lose faith even though I go to church because it can be hard out here – it just takes me over. But she’s always positive for me – she’s my calm – and when you’re in a position like this you need that kind of calm in your life.”