Riley Vinson won’t spin you a hard luck tale.
He won’t fill your ear with a litany of reasons on why he lives the life that he does today, and he won’t cast off blame onto others.
And for somebody who has lived on the street for nearly 11 months, he’s well-dressed and groomed just like somebody you’d expect to find walking down Main Street on a mundane Tuesday afternoon.
The only catch is that he does so in a bright orange vest and while carrying a sand wedge – 61 degrees of loft – on a bicycle with a bag draped over each handlebar.
Vinson is homeless. He’s part of a group of Manteca residents that have become a flashpoint of local politics and community concern and he knows it. He went as far as to keep tabs on the candidates in this year’s council elections and making it a point to draft up a list of things that he wanted to talk about when civic leaders, concerned citizens and social service professionals gathered on Wednesday morning to discuss the issue.
Written down in pencil on a piece of torn out binder paper, Vinson outlined a handful of things that he thinks would benefit those like him that have struggled even with the hand-up that has been provided by San Joaquin County outreach services and programs designed to give those who need it assistance.
Being able to register as homeless with an ID. Lockers. Anonymity. Showers and cots. Bike registration.
They might seem like small details, but for somebody who has to keep a schedule about when the City of Manteca dumps its recycling dumpsters – Vinson knows when and where there’s an empty one each night and he uses them for safe shelter by locking himself inside – they’re important.
“People have this misconception that we’re all products of our environment and we want to be here,” Vinson said. “I’ve got a strong back. I’m able. But even if I could get a job, I owe so much in back taxes and revenue and recovery and child support that it would all be gone and I’d be right back in this situation I’m in right now. There are a lot of stories like that.”
Vinson has been homeless since 2011, and through the county’s general assistance program, he was able to secure a room at a single-occupancy hotel in Downtown Manteca.
There isn’t anything glamorous, he says, about living at a place with that kind of a name.
He did what he could to get by – got on food stamps, went through the human services agency – and did what he was supposed to do in working it all off at the Hope Chest for a 7-month stretch. But when he woke up late one day he ended getting terminated, and that meant losing the $340-a-month that the county pays for the single occupancy hotel room. Before he knew it the Sherriff’s Department was knocking on his door and he was back out onto the street.
That means days of using the sand wedge – his calling card – to sift through garbage cans and recycling bins to find cans and bottles that he can turn into cash. And it means nights of trying to find a place where he can sleep without getting robbed by somebody else or woken up by the police.
Over the last few weeks he’s been woken up by the police several times and that means going on to somewhere else – another spot he’s discovered during the day – to lay his head. It’s a grind. And it’s a tough one. But in all of his interactions with the police, Vinson says that he’s always been treated with professionalism – respect given is often given back directly to him. And he feels bad for the women with children that can’t get into shelters like Raymus House and can’t find someplace to go.
It’s a life, he says, that can be rough-and-tumble at times and one that can be difficult. But it’s one that he knows all too well.
“I can survive out here. I can make it on my own,” he said. “There are some people that are doing things that give us a bad name – they see me and think that I must be the guy that’s out there doing all of those other things.
“It’s life I guess.”