Little Mike won’t panhandle you in front of your neighborhood 7-Eleven and then flip you off if you don’t open your wallet.
Nor will you find him boozing it up and passing out on a sidewalk in front of a fast food restaurant.
Little Mike is rather pleasant and neatly dressed. He is likely to cordially greet you with hand extended in friendship.
He is part of what might aptly be called Manteca’s invisible homeless.
They have been lumped in with the in-your-face homeless, those blatantly pitching tents along the 120 Bypass, aggressive panhandlers who often aren’t homeless, and tweaked out zombies that populate East Yosemite Avenue sidewalks with more pedestrians and bicyclists after midnight than at high noon.
Little Mike on Wednesday was where he gathers most hump days. He was on the ground of Metal Tech on Moffat Boulevard partaking in Manteca’s church without walls — the Heart 2 Heart Ministries — overseen by Pastor Kandee Williams.
Some 40 to 70 homeless and Manteca residents on the edge of being put out onto the streets drop by each week for bingo, friendly conservation, a hot meal, Bible study, and toiletries that they treat like gold.
If you’re expecting to see arrogant, drug and alcohol abusers and vulgarity this is not the place to go.
These are people on hard times, not meth.
“It (the homeless problem) got worse in Manteca during the housing crisis,” Williams said.
Williams should know. She lost her house.
Her ministry to help the homeless was born in sorrow.
“This was always my husband’s dream,” Williams said softly as a volunteer barbecued near a canopy where seven people were playing a game of blackout trying to win a goodie bag that the eventually winner opted to share.
When her husband Joe died, Williams dedicated herself to making his dream come true. In doing so she has kept from being consumed by grief.
As she talked about her dream — securing a place in the country where the homeless could be bused to shower, store their belongings so they won’t get stolen, wash their clothes and shower — another volunteer was busy preparing bread in a former small transit bus donated to her effort by Inner City Ministries of Stockton.
“Our long term vision is to have a place for them to come shower, wash their clothes, and even have a garden and farm animals,” Williams said. “We would offer services 24/7 that are supervised and help to maintain some structure.”
The polite bantering among the guests underscores Williams point that these aren’t bad people. As she’s talking, a young mother with two pre-teen boys comes up and joins the growing crowd underneath the canopy seeking respite from the heat as the temperature climbed toward 100 degrees.
The younger boy — perhaps 8 — longingly eyed a box of donated Red Delicious apples as he walked to the tables.
“Our goal is to give them a hot meal and fresh fruit,” Williams said. “They don’t get that very often.”
The reason is self-evident. When your home is an older mini-van, a relatively late model pick-up truck or what would politely be called a beater car that are jammed full of your worldly possessions; there just isn’t any room for a refrigerator. Any food that has a remote chance of being [perishable doesn’t keep too long in a car where the temperature can soar to 150 degrees when windows are rolled up and doors locked.
Williams discretely starts sharing the stories of those she helps. One had a brain tumor. Some are on permanent disability. Others lost jobs and after a few months on the streets feel into the trap of adjusting to a life where you don’t have monthly rent and utility bills and then suddenly find you are in too deep to easily get back out.
But getting out any more is not as easy as it once was. When you are trying to survive on a $1,100 a month disability check or if by chance you are able to land a minimum wage job and the rent for a one bedroom apartment in Manteca is over $900 a month you don’t need a financial consultant to tell you the obvious
Williams can only afford to rent herself by having roommates.
But as Williams would tell you, this isn’t about her even though you could arguably count her and hundreds of other Manteca residents who are near the edge of being homeless.
“Most of the people that we feed are on disability and have little income,” Williams said. “By giving them a place to go each night we can provide them a place to keep belongings. This will help keep the homeless away from sleeping by the freeway or behind local businesses.”
And while it is true about their lack of money, it doesn’t stop them from digging into their pockets to offer Heart 2 Heart Ranch Ministries donations to help with eh costs.
“Often times they will give a dollar or two when they have money,” Williams said. “Once in a while it may even be a $20.”
They aren’t looking for a free ride. They have pride. It’s just that they have little money that makes renting a motel room once or twice a month a luxury that they will indulge in so they can take a shower and use the opportunity to each their clothes.
“Their biggest concern is where they are going to sleep each night,” Williams said of the homeless she ministers.
Williams noted that options for the homeless to sleep were significantly reduced when the city moved to clear out a quasi-abandoned trailer park on Moffat Boulevard at about the time the city was opening its $8 million transit station.
“The homeless problem really spiked after that,” Williams said.
As far as the homeless Williams deals with being a problem, they’ve been gathering now at Metal Tech on Wednesdays for two years to share fellowship and enjoy a hot meal.
Is it a problem?
Let’s put it this way. I live three blocks away and I assure you they are not the “homeless” that are creating the problem for Manteca as a whole.
“Jesus was homeless, you know,” Williams adds. “They’re just people.”
If you would like to assist Heart 2 Heart Ranch Ministries contact Pastor Williams at (209) 923.3425 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com