I do not know the man.
Nor have I talked to him, beyond a quick “hi”, as I have other homeless individuals.
That said I really need to understand what drives his thought process.
For the last week or so he’s had his small RV — along with a pickup truck filled with belongings — parked on Moffat Boulevard near the Sleepy Hollow Mobile Home Park
Twice I’ve seen him. He may live in the RV solo, he may not.
The one brief exchange I had was earlier this week when I jogged by.
Although it’s hard to size someone up in such a fleeting moment he struck me as the typical homeless on the street and not the aggravating minority that gets in your face, is spaced out on drugs shouting as they walk down the street, trash up the city, or wander aimlessly into traffic.
And to make it clear, I am not an “expert” on the homeless meaning I’m not on the front line working to try and get them on a path off the street.
However, given my neighborhood is close to prime “hang outs” whether it is setting up tents or bedding down for the night, my various jogging routes take me past them, and I make it a habit to keep tabs on them to cover their impacts on Manteca as part of my job I do like to think I have a degree of working knowledge.
The man was no more than a passing thought until Friday.
What piqued my interest was a loud cough.
I had gone for a jog at 12:30 p.m. on Friday just as the temperature hit 100 degrees. Rest assured I made sure I was well hydrated and conditioned to hit the pavements and even had shortened by time jogging down to 22 minutes as a precaution.
I heard the cough from inside the RV just as I jogged past. What I did not hear was the sound of a generator or a fan that could cool down his domicile.
It had to easily be in excess of 110 degrees in the tin box he was in.
Less than half a mile away as the crow flies was the Inner City Action homeless outreach shelter that also is doing double duty as a cooling center during the heat wave.
I of all people know you can condition yourself to deal with the valley heat as long as you prepare, take precautions, and constantly keep assess how you are doing.
But even I can’t phantom sitting a tin box with small windows that must be like what a cat feels on a hot tin roof when you can access a large tent with cooling air. I’ve met true desert rats that live in quasi-mobile homes in the middle of nowhere in the Mojave Desert that deal with heat extremes in summer and cold extremes in winter. But they’re doing that by design and not by default.
I’ve heard individuals that lived on the streets for seven years and longer who have since turned their lives around and are able to pay for shelter and other basic needs via jobs explain how it becomes a comfortable norm hardened by distrust that builds quickly when you start living every day looking over your shoulder.
It makes sense from that perspective.
Your first inclination if it moves you at all is to think how you can make their lives more bearable.
But those same former long-term homeless persons as well as people who work with them day-to-day such as Manteca Police Community Resource Officer Mike Kelly say it is counterproductive to make the homeless comfortable on the street.
A few years back Kelly shared how he and others had been working on a weekly and sometimes daily basis to try and get those camping behind buildings on Oak Street along the railroad tracks just south of downtown to get to the point they would commit to getting help to get off the streets. This means either starting with a drug rehab program first or — if they are sober as a number are — tackling a long list of things needed to make them employable.
They were enjoying some success. It is a process that can take months and in some cases years such as with one homeless individual Kelly thought would never get off the streets and would ultimately die on them.
At the same time there will be those — a clear minority — that will never come off the streets by choice whether it is attitude toward rules or other reasons or because they are so deep into addictions or mental illness.
Manteca for five years plus has been working on an outreach effort using police and community resources to work with the homeless. They will also make see basic needs are addressed, nothing more and nothing less, when they come across concerns.
This brings us back to the Oak Street encampment.
It had been raining off and on for several days. The winter cold was miserable. It was helping wear down the resistance of several of the homeless to voluntarily taking the step needed to get off the street.
But the some “Good Samaritan” purchased and distributed more than a dozen colorful large umbrellas along with sleeping bags.
It may have made the Good Samaritan feel good, but the impact was fleeting. Not only were the sleeping bags trashed and abandoned within days along with the umbrellas that ended up littering the area just south of downtown, but several of the homeless that seemed ready to commit to getting off the street because they couldn’t stand another cold and rainy night in the elements were no longer motivated to do si.
You can find out what makes the man — who keeps a low profile in that RV on Moffat — tick which might just temper any wholesale ideas you might have about the homeless or find out how ineffective and counterproductive well-meaning handouts are.
To do so plan on attending the Manteca Interfaith Community Appeal (MICA) Evening of Respect gathering on Thursday, June 24, at 7 p.m. at the St. Paul’s Methodist Church fellowship hall, 910 North St.
The theme for the annual gathering is “Homelessness: Developing Empathy.”
It is designed to answer questions such as ‘who are the homeless”, “what are the causes of homelessness”, and “what can we learn from the survivors?”
You will hear from Judge Barbara Kronlund who has presided over homeless court, District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar on how homeless impacts local government, Inner City Action on what is being done to work with the homeless to help get them off the streets, and City of Manteca administrative analyst Johanna Ferrera who will speak on homeless issues in Manteca
After the presentations, a variety of organizations that work with the homeless in Manteca — Love INC, Inner City Action, Family Promise, St. Paul’s food pantry, Manteca Gospel Rescue Mission, and HOPE Family Ministries shelters — will have information available.
The goal is get more people to understand the problem so that the impacts of homelessness on the community can hopefully be reduced.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org