[Hpn] Dismantled camps leave Manteca homeless in cold

William Charles Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Sat, 25 Mar 2006 08:31:39 -0500


Dismantled camps leave Manteca homeless in cold

Dismantled encampments leave Manteca's homeless few options
Alex Breitler
Record Staff Writer

Published Saturday, Mar 25, 2006

MANTECA - Harold wasn'thome Wednesday morning when police officers with
flashlights discovered his camp inside an abandoned building on Moffat

And he wasn't home the next day when crews cleared out his meager belongings
and boarded up the ground-level hole that served as his front door.

But his words were found scribbled on an inner wall in the darkness:

"Harold's stuff," the message read. "Please don't mess with it. There's
nothing good inside anyway."

Harold is one of an unknown number of homeless who have passed the cold,
rainy season under cardboard boxes, beneath tarps and plywood, or, in
Harold's case, within the shell of a lonely old boat repair shop.

Manteca police have eradicated several illegal camps in recent weeks.
Homeless advocates say there's simply not enough shelter for everyone.

"Winter is always a rough time for people," said Dave Thompson of the
Manteca-based HOPE Family Ministries. His shelter serves 100 families a

"The fact that police are finding all these encampments shows that there is
a real need for shelter in our community," he added.

Indeed, Harold's options are limited. The HOPE shelter is just for families.
And it's always full, Thompson said.

The nearest shelter for single men is in Stockton. So many of Manteca's
homeless choose to hide, camping in one place for a little while, then
moving on before they're noticed, said Thompson and police officers.

One recently dismantled camp was hidden in the tall grass near Wal-Mart
along a busy Highway 120 onramp. Another was discovered behind an antiques
store on Yosemite Avenue not far from downtown.

Residents in the second camp had tapped into the store's power supply and
hooked up a television and VCR, police said.

The recent busts are not intended as a crackdown on the homeless, said
Manteca police spokesman Rex Osborn. But many of the lean-tos and shanties
are unsightly and unsanitary. Some contain stolen property.

Police try to direct the homeless toward shelters or assistance groups.

"We don't just go and kick them out," Osborn said.

Officers at Harold's camp left a note Wednesday warning that his things
would be cleared out the following day, giving him the opportunity to move.

Kelly Rowton still has a roof over her head - for now. She and her boyfriend
rolled into the Wal-Mart parking lot this week in their 1978 Overland motor

Manteca police warned them a couple of months back that they can no longer
park in the pasture at the home of Rowton's mother-in-law. They moved to Dos
Reis Regional Park in Lathrop, where campers can stay only several weeks at
a time.

Wal-Mart will be home until Rowton can return to the park and start the
cycle all over again.

The father of her two children helped support the family until he was killed
five years ago in a police pursuit, she said. Her boys, ages 15 and 11, are
now staying with other family members.

Rowton, 34, says a learning disability makes it hard for her to work.

She collects a little Social Security income but can't pay the $400
registration for the motor home and fears it might be taken away.

"I'd give anything to have a house," she said with a wistful smile. "But
this is at least somewhere to sleep. And it's the only thing we've got."

Many of San Joaquin County's homeless are farm workers who live in vans,
said John Reynolds of the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless. Others are
former apartment dwellers whose skyrocketing rents exceed their wages,
forcing them onto the streets.

"It's pretty rough out there right now," Reynolds said.

A survey last year counted more than 3,300 homeless countywide. More than
500 of them had no shelter.

In Manteca, the same survey counted 34 sheltered and 23 nonsheltered
homeless, said Jonathan Moore, chief deputy director of the county Community
Development Department.

The numbers are based on a one-night sweep of the city using vehicles and

There's no way of knowing how many more Harolds are out there.

"I would say we missed more than we counted," Moore said.

Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 239-6606 or abreitler@recordnet.com

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