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Trade homeless encampments in Stockton for mini-storage units
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Solving the homeless problem is a bigger challenge than inventing a perpetual motion machine.
There are so many moving parts that it’ll drive you crazy. There’s the hardcore homeless that chose the lifestyle. There are those that want everything on their terms. There are druggies and alcoholics. There are mentally ill people. There are runaway kids many of whom have been abused before hitting the streets. There are families that can’t pay rent. Some are on the streets for years. Others are there for days or perhaps months.
Then there are the “solutions.” If you ignore the homeless especially when they are no longer invisible they can become a cancer on neighborhoods and a community discouraging investment and economic development that brings jobs that ultimately would help those among them willing to work. If you put a solution in place — a traditional drop-in homeless shelter — you run the very real risk of installing a magnet to draw more homeless from other communities to create even more illegal encampments. Solutions to house the homeless are expensive and fall pitifully short of making even a detectable dent in the problem.
Most people vacillate between empathy and outrage when it comes to the homeless. It’s tough not to be concerned about the homeless especially when it is cold and raining. At the same time being sympathetic is a challenge when they get in your face with aggressive panhandling, destroy property or litter a park restroom with needles.
Then there are those blended in with the homeless — the meth heads, the panhandlers and other dregs of society.
Nowhere in San Joaquin County is the homeless challenge as pressing as it is on the western edge of downtown Stockton.
There is not a homeless encampment as much as a homeless neighborhood. Makeshift shelters litter the landscape. You can find them lining the unfenced area in Caltrans right-of-way between the transition ramp from the Crosstown Freeway to northbound Interstate 5 and the Mormon Slough. They are under the elevated Crosstown Freeway. They occupy the sidewalks near St. Mary’s Dining Hall. One homeless guy has even set up home in the “hills” between the east-west lanes of Highway 4.
Some say this is proof that locating permanent services for the homeless in an area will simply draw more homeless. It is probably true but it doesn’t generate more homeless.
You cannot eliminate the homeless population no matter how much you try if for no other reason a small percentage chose to be that way and a segment refuses to follow rules, have mental health issues or refuse to refrain from abusing substances.
But what do you do about problems they create by being homeless?
Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva has stepped into this twilight zone between those that are searching for a Pied Piper solution and others that want to build the homeless shrines.
Silva has led efforts to have portable toilets and sinks along with dumpsters placed in what is without a doubt the most high profile large homeless congregating spot in the Central Valley. It hasn’t reduced numbers but it is addressing health and safety concerns of people simply going to the bathroom wherever they can find a spot. As far as them using the dumpsters to police their general living area, the jury is still out on that move.
Silva says this is only temporary while Stockton tries to figure what to do next.
The problem is figuring out that next move. If it is to rid the area of the homeless then the city is going to have to find another home for the dining hall and shelter that isn’t in the boondocks and has similar terrain the overflow homeless can Commandeer for encampments. Good luck making that happen as resistance from whatever area you pick will most assuredly be beyond fierce.
There is a solution that wouldn’t break the bank, would clean up the area to a degree and would be more humane than makeshift encampments. It would also require bending the rules a bit but not bending them as much as the homeless are now. There is vacant Caltrans land along Lincoln Street underneath the Highway 4 freeway where the homeless are now squatting as well as three nearby large parcels between Washington and Markets streets north of the freeway.
Putting in mini-storage units at those locations can clean-up the area and provide a measurably better human living conditions. A 5- by 10-foot mini-storage unit would provide a place for the homeless not just to stash their items but to sleep and get out of the rain. Pull down doors would have to be designed with some type of window and door lock like mechanisms. They are also easy to clean if someone moves out and leaves trash behind. Interspersed through the areas could be community kitchens. You could even have showers, bathrooms and a laundry or — if you prefer to stay Spartan — portable toilets.
On the parcels along Market Street, you could have 8-foot masonry sound walls to block views of the facilities. You’d also have the option of securing the areas at a certain time each night. Once in place, you make the units available free of charge through a management team.
This will trigger howls of protest from homeless advocates as being inhumane and substandard. Compared to what the homeless have now it’s downright luxurious.
As for those that don’t want to create a permanent home to shelter the homeless, take a look around. How has the current solution in place, which is none, been working?

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 or 209.249.3519.