They are there.
We just don’t see them most of the time.
And when we do, we are conditioned to believe they are invisible.
They are Manteca’s hardcore homeless.
They are not among the nearly 700 homeless children that the Manteca Unified School District keeps tabs on. Nor are they among the homeless families that make their way through HOPE Family Shelter for a chance to get back on their feet. Those homeless aren’t hardcore. That’s not to say they have homes as most of us would define a home as. Instead, they bounce between acquaintances’ couches, relatives’ garages, cheap motel rooms, camping, sleeping in vans, flopping in foreclosed homes, and such. Most of the time they have a roof of some type over their head. They may stay put for a few days, a week or even a month or so before having to search for different shelter.
The hardcore homeless actually live on the streets. They are predominantly male and older but they are getting younger and count single females among their ranks.
Some have set territories pushing shopping carts through residential neighborhoods while crashing in alleys. Others kind of roam the streets. You see them during the day but mostly they are on the move at night.
Back in better times when police were battling chronic problems with drug users in flop houses, the hardcore homeless numbers were put at about 20. The reason such an estimate came up is that they were being wrongfully accused of creating problems such as those that once scarred downtown. Most of those problems came from boarding houses that have since been significantly cleaned up. As a result drug issues, broken bottles, public urination in alleys, and even the amount of needles and other stuff presetting illegal activities dumped in garbage cans around Library Park have fallen sharply.
There is anecdotal evidence their numbers of the hardcore homeless have risen.
For the most part, they leave other people alone.
Yes, many appear to be intoxicated at times. Some may have mental health problems. Others may have been caught in the downward spiral of drugs and are just trying to survive.
Many may not want help. Many may want to do things their way so therefore they really can’t be helped.
Regardless of their story, they are there.
And they are not just in Manteca. They are in every community except for those due to their exclusivity and ability to bankroll intolerance by being able to afford enough law enforcement sources to pressure them to move on.
They are not a modern abnormality nor are their existence tied exclusively to tough times. There is little doubt, though, that tough times see an upswing in their numbers.
Maybe it is because relatives or friends who are struggling harder have little patience for them in times like these where the extra weight might be enough to drag them under as well.
What can we do - or should we do - if anything to help change the situation?
We can build a $2.1 million animal shelter to the latest strict standards of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to humanely treat abandoned dogs with dignity but we shy away from what are essentially stray humans.
Man is not an animal per se. And obviously the animal shelter has consequences for those dogs that go unclaimed.
There are easily hundreds - if not - more people, out there who are providing the safety net for friends, relatives, and - in some cases - almost complete strangers. We do not lack humanity.
The problem given a repertoire of reasons ranging from court decisions regarding free will to zoning to liability, and even squatter rights from someone you provide a room rent free for an extended period of time we are at a loss to do anything when it comes to the hardcore homeless.
Perhaps we need to take the first step and openly admit we have a problem and it isn’t exclusive by any stretch of the imagination to Manteca.
Then we need to talk about it and decide what we’d like to do, what we can do, and what we want to do.
If those of us on both extremes of the philosophical spectrum value life so much that we are adamantly against abortion, adamantly opposed to suicide, or adamantly opposed to the death penalty you’d think we would be driven to some common ground on what to do about the hardcore homeless.
A life is a life.