The advantage of working past midnight – if you want to call it that – is you become familiar with a Manteca few see.
Part of the early morning landscape are bicyclists and walkers who are obviously homeless. Some are scruffy-looking, but for the most part they are fairly well kept considering.
In warmer months, when the night heat makes it impossible to sleep, there are youths roaming about making a mockery out of curfew, gang members looking for trouble and druggies primarily strung out on meth. By the time November nears, the streets are populated primarily by the homeless when midnight approaches.
They are not panhandling. Some are either carrying large bags of cans or pulling them on a cart behind bicycles. A few have vehicles that they park in empty parking lots. Most that do try not to hide too much apparently out of concern for their safety. One woman, in particular backs her old white Dodge mini-van into a stall at the old Manteca News building about four times a week.
It dawned on me on the wee hours Wednesday as I crossed the path driving home of four different wanderers including a young couple that definitely looked like they had slept in their clothes, that these people were different.
None of them were the regular cast of characters that aggressively panhandle during the day. They didn’t block sidewalks or set up temporary quarters next to commercial buildings. And, surprisingly, they don’t wander aimlessly in and out of traffic as their counterparts do during the day (although the bicycling scavengers at times can be oblivious to traffic signals).
I was reminded several months ago by a gentleman that works with struggling individuals that the bulk of the homeless on the street are there for a relatively short time. They gravitate between being embarrassed about their situation to being desperate. They may have temporarily lost the financial ability to keep a roof over their head or they may be a 19-year-old kicked out of the foster care system or from their family home. I was told most get off the street with a little help and determination. They do not want to be there. But in the real world of 2014, minimum wage jobs aren’t a dime a dozen, you can’t afford an apartment on your own or with buddies especially if you are under 25 as it requires security and last month deposits plus credit and personal references. You need to have someone help you get on your own two feet.
I know dozens of people who would be homeless if it weren’t for non-traditional living arrangements with rents significantly below what it would cost if they lived on their own. Some are retired. Many are under 25.
These people – and those who hit the street and work to get off as quick as they can – succeed because this community is generous. It’s not just the HOPE Family Shelters that are supported 90 percent by donations with the rest coming from the federal government. HOPE Shelters is only the tip of the iceberg of Manteca’s community-based efforts to help those struggling.
There is a real fear that some of those who hit the street not due to drugs or refusing to follow the rules will get stuck there either for years or life.
Sometimes we just don’t notice them even though they are right in front of us. But we definitely notice the troublemakers who aggressively panhandle, block sidewalks and flop where they wish during the daytime with shopping carts and bedrolls by their sides.
One of those I didn’t notice I found out later was an 18-year-old kicked out of foster care. He was a solid student and had graduated and even had a 15-hour-a-week fast-food job. He was facing the world making $120 a week before taxes.
I did see him. I’d jog by him three or four days a week as he walked along Powers Avenue by Lincoln School pushing a dolly stacked with boxes and a suitcase with a cat on his shoulder.
I was curious about the cat and thought about one day stopping to ask him about it. Then I got to thinking he must be a bit daffy given he was pulling his belongings around. It never crossed my mind he was homeless.
Come to find out he was spending nights in an alley a block from my home. He’d get up in the morning and take his belongings to a spot that was secure. And if he had work, he’d clean and report to his job.
Someone else noticed his pattern and secured help. From what I found out, that help was finding a second job and helping secure a room he could rent in a home. They also got him assistance to go to Delta College and help with food. I’m not too sure where he’s at today but I haven’t seen him on the street again.
We should not get warm and fuzzy about the homeless. But we need to remember those that get in your face demanding the city council be “fired” for limiting their ability to rifle through dumpsters and Toters are a relatively small percentage of the homeless.
They are causing the problems. They are lost causes, for the most part. But there are others on the street that aren’t.
And giving them money or providing shelter where they can “stabilize” on the streets isn’t the answer. The answer is getting them off the street by working with them.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.