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Charlie: An invisible 19-year-old on Mantecas streets
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It was one of about a dozen phone messages I’ll retrieve during the day.

The caller’s name was Charlie.

You could detect a slight tinge of desperation in his voice.

He said he’s 19 years old. He is without a home.

He had one question: Is there any place in Manteca that can help him get off the streets?

That was the extent of the phone message. He left no return phone number.

There was no way to contact him to find out his plight or situation. So I moved on to the next message.

Later as I headed home at 1:15 a.m., I took notice of people on the streets. I usually don’t give folks walking about at that hour much notice. It’s probably because you get used to the patterns after 21 years. You tend to grow indifferent because most everybody at that hour seems to be minding their own business.

In case you’re wondering there are more people than you can imagine roaming around in the wee hours of the morning in Manteca. Sometimes there are groups of young people heading home or to some other destination. There are those that might be tweakers. Then there are the homeless who prefer to move at night, scavenge dumpsters, and then sleep in the day.

I didn’t see anyone who might look like they could be Charlie that night.

It did, however, get me to thinking. In the past months in early morning jogs I’ve ventured past a few young men asleep. What made them noticeable is the hardcore homeless tend not to sleep in the open where you can see them.

One was curled up with a school-style back pack and his skateboard on a bench in the triangle formed by Manteca, Yosemite and Pierce avenues near Library Park.

The other was in the landscaping along the sound wall just west of IHOP.

In both cases, the kids – they definitely looked like teens – weren’t wearing disheveled clothes nor did they have the appearance of being long-term homeless.

I’m not about to lecture anyone on this one. In retrospect, I should have stopped to see if they were OK. That was about the extent of what I could do. While it might have been nice for them to know someone was concerned I couldn’t offer them money as I don’t take cash with me when I jog and I certainly wasn’t in a position to offer them any help on shelter. So I just kept jogging.

It wasn’t until Charlie’s call that it sunk in that there are a lot of reasons good kids, or should I say young men, are on the streets. They could be graduates of the foster care system. Their families could have thrown them out for hundreds of reasons even if they weren’t abusing drugs. They could have been bouncing around from friend’s house to friend’s house and run out of options.

Given 14 percent unemployment and the fact jobs are even harder for those between 18 and 25 to land, some young men may not have any choices. They may not even realize there are threads of a safety net – which doesn’t amount to much through government agencies in San Joaquin County – that they can grab partially on to.

His question was about one of the basic needs that most of us take for granted – shelter. It wasn’t about food or health care or keeping clothed but even so I’m not sure those needs are being met.

Too often people – including myself – dismiss most homeless as being on the streets as the result not just of bad decisions but their adamant refusal to comply with rules.

But what about those who don’t do drugs and are young? What do they do once every option they can grasp at is gone?

It’s not a problem unique to Manteca by any stretch of the imagination.

Even simply opening a temporary shelter that just provides a safe place to sleep protected from the elements is a torturous journey of government rules, liability issues, and a host of other problems.

The bottom line is we all turn our collective heads.

Perhaps we’re not our brother’s keeper but the fact we let the “Charlies” of the world slip into a hopeless hole that they may never climb out of doesn’t say much for us as a civilization.

If all goes wrong, the odds are the “Charlies” that we ignore when they are young will become the full-fledged hardcore homeless.

Then we can take comfort in knowing they can’t be helped.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.