Drive by Lincoln Park two to three hours after sunset.
More often than not you’ll find the new group picnic shelter that the city wisely decided to keep lighted at night in use by Manteca’s most invisible residents — the homeless that don’t get in your face.
Don’t confuse them with panhandlers you see during the day plying their trade at the entrances to parking lots, freeway entrances or with their makeshift Winnegabos partially blocking sidewalks. Besides the fact that some of the panhandlers commute to Manteca to beg, the odds are most of them aren’t homeless in the sense they are sleeping on the street.
Those that make their way to the picnic shelter to kill a few hours before scattering to bed down for the night are homeless. They travel light. Perhaps they have a garbage bag or two holding their possessions. Occasionally one will have a shopping cart.
Chat with them and you’ll find a wide range of stories. Some are “new” to the streets. They tend to be younger, kicked out by family or people they were staying with. You want to ask why, but you don’t. Most seem clear-headed, and clear-eyed. Those with a few months or years under their belt of being free range city residents with no address of any sort while tell you that they will see kids barely out of high school — almost always males — appear on Manteca’s streets for a few days or perhaps a week or two and then never see them again.
The reasons the newbies end up on the street run the gamut from foster kids too old for the system, fighting with parents, money issues in a struggling family, or drugs.
Most find ways to get off the street. They buckle down. They sleep in friends’ garages. They hustle to get any job — or more likely multiple jobs — that they can. Those that get off the street have a common dominator according to one older gent who says he’s been on the streets in Manteca for the better part of two years. They don’t do drugs or alcohol, at least when they are on the streets. Perhaps they never did. Perhaps it is out of fear. Or perhaps they want to use what limited resources they have to get off the street.
Live in a neighborhood like Powers Tract that is along two corridors — Yosemite Avenue and Moffat Boulevard with Powers Avenue being a popular connector — that many homeless travel after most of the city sleeps and you will learn a lot about Manteca’s invisible residents especially when you are headed home just before the bars close.
Many ride bicycles while carrying garbage bags full of recyclable cans. Occasionally you will spot someone going through a dumpster or a trash can outside a convenience store. Twice in the early morning hours on every other Tuesday when the city’s recycling trucks will start rolling through the neighborhood in a few hours you will see someone poaching alumninum cans from blue Toters. They do so quietly and — I least the ones I saw — never leave a mess behind.
While they may be stealing recyclables from the city, these are the homeless that have found a way to survive without getting in anyone’s face or committing transgressions. They are not the problem. But at the same time, if we as a community want to help the homeless get off the street these are the ones that should be targeted providing of course, they want to get off the street. If that sounds like an insane statement, consider this: There are a few individuals who have been homeless for years that you couldn’t pick out in a lineup as being homeless as they are cleanly dressed and address their personal hygiene.
They also have another trait that sets them apart: They don’t panhandle.
That is important to note because of the animosity that panhandlers create.
Manteca’s stepped up effort to “deal” with homeless issues is entering its 15th month.
We are never going to solve the homeless issue per se. We also are never going to rid the streets of the homeless, nor should we.
It isn’t a crime to be homeless. At the same time being homeless doesn’t put you above the law.
The long-haul homeless that are under the radar make things work for them because they don’t get in anyone’s face.
Perhaps it is because they don’t blame the world for their situation — or perhaps it because they don’t do incredibly stupid things.
Consider the case of two homeless men — Christopher Wilcox and Robert Stafford —who were arrested by Stockton Police on Thursday morning on 90 counts of grand theft.
The two are suspected of using a pipe cutter to steal 86 downtown Stockton parking meters that will cost the city $1,000 apiece to replace. The two, found in a homeless encampment on the edge of downtown Stockton, were tripped up when they tried to sell what remained of the meters after they ripped them apart for the change inside to recycling centers.
Unfortunately, the actions of such individuals are what define the character of “homeless” people to most of us. It’s not the scared 19-year-old trying to get off the street or the 40 something guy who has been on the street for years and dresses as nice as a Home Depot worker.
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 email@example.com or 209.249.3519.