Clothes and knick knacks are strewn about in the oleanders just off Highway 33 on Monday, April 14. ---Brooke Borba/Patterson Irrigator
Patterson Recycling Center manager Ivan Silva (right) shows scraps of copper to Deputy Noel Vento that are often turned in by homeless.
After the authorities were able to force many of the homeless out of the oleanders along Highway 33 and the former Del Puerto Hospital, many decide to live in plain sight in North Park. Their average day consists of eating their one free meal, salvaging cans or working for residents for a small wage.
Residents and authorities throughout the West Side have noticed a large increase in the homeless population within the last few months. According to Sgt. Aaron Costello of Patterson Police Services, the number of homeless within Patterson alone has ranged from 50 to 80 people, and the population is continually growing every day throughout the course of the last eight months.
The impact has had a direct effect on the oleanders off Highway 33 and the former Del Puerto Hospital and senior center on South Ninth Street. Hundreds of clothes, trinkets and bottles were left in huddles around these specific locations, as well as makeshift homes or tents where bonfires would be built.
Many made their homes in the brushes just on the other side of Peck and Hiller Structural Concrete’s large fence near Highway 33, which presented a fire hazard for the numerous stacks of lumber stocked for supply.
“It’s a hazard,” said Tim Gilberth, manager of Peck and Hiller. “If the needles were to catch on fire, this place will burn for days. If it did go up in flames, we’d have massive concerns. There is millions of dollars in lumber that we’d have to take care of.”
Gilbreth sought his own solution and called his men to cut down the small tree neighboring his fence on Monday afternoon, April 14. He hopes the act will deter future inhabitants or break-ins.
Local authorities, the city code enforcement officer and the Southern Pacific Railroad Police have also attempted to force the homeless out of these locations, prompting the isolated community to stage a home at North Park near the Plaza Circle.
The clean-up in the oleanders has cost the city of Patterson thousands of dollars to bring in tractors, dump trucks and a crew of five to seven men to clean up the trash left behind. More work will need to be done to the former hospital on South Ninth Street, which has been gutted and rigged with booby traps so that fellow transients and authorities may fall through the floors and into the basement.
Now that the homeless are out in the open, many citizens as well as business owners are in a state of unrest, fearing their presence will drive away business or residents from public amenities in the park.
Staff members at McAuley Ford have also alluded to many problems since their initial move. The staff has witnessed a series of fights, even one that left a young girl with Down Syndrome crying when she was playing in the park. One incident was recalled where one of the homeless had left feces in the car lot.
“It’s really sad,” said McAuley staff member Efren De Anda. “We see it all day long.”
Thefts of bicycles, copper, aluminum and cans have also skyrocketed, as most homeless use these means to recycle for monetary funds.
Urban and rural areas are all in danger of theft, added Deputy Noel Vento of Patterson Police Services. The homeless population have, and will continue to, scour the entire region and strip parts from tractors, city electrical boxes, businesses and foreclosed homes.
One anonymous homeowner said the foreclosed home in her neighborhood on Ashwood Lane was constantly attracting homeless people attempting to steal doorknobs, wiring and electrical units.
“I’m here with my daughter while my husband is at a swing shift out of town,” she said. “I don’t feel safe. It’s very frustrating.”
Although citizens are irritated with the added presence and mischiefs of the transients, many are wondering why they would choose to live in Patterson in the first place.
According to the homeless community, the choice was an easy one to make. Free meals are guaranteed once a day by Trust in Jesus Cuisine, a volunteer group that serves meals in North Park daily, allowing many transients to spend the money they make from recycling on their addiction of choice.
“There are three different types of homeless,” said Deputy Vento. “Drug and alcohol addiction, physical disability and mental disability. We have all of them here but, for the most part, they are addicts. Many people think the homeless are lazy, but they work just as hard, if not harder, to get enough money to feed their addiction.”
One 43-year-old transient identified as Deanna said she was unable to receive food stamps because she was a convicted felon in 2000-2001 after being a member of Operation Cocaine Cowboy, a gang in Missouri. Her choice of drug is a “dime a day” of crystal meth. Since she is able to be fed through the Trust in Jesus Cuisine, she spends roughly $10 to $20 to receive the fix, and does so by picking out of garbage cans for recycling.
Deanna also said she liked Patterson because of the police presence, which encourages them to get healthy and repeatedly offers services and solutions to their disposal.
“I just have a lot of stuff on my mind. I’m really depressed. In Missouri, they are not trying to help. They are really strict,” she said Monday afternoon.
Another transient name Gloria, a known alcoholic throughout the police department, was found just outside the Patterson Recycle Center. When Deputy Vento stopped the car and offered help repeatedly, she began to tear up, look at him solemnly, but ultimately walked away.
“It breaks my heart,” said Deputy Vento shortly after the interaction. “She wants help. I can see it. We don’t want to move these people and burden another town. We want to solve the problem. You look at their hearts and their human. We’ll chip away slowly at a time.”
Many others said they preferred Patterson over Modesto because of the religious factor. Most services that offer help for addiction or housing force the transients to pray or attend religious classes.
Deputy Vento added that many residents are allowing the homeless problem to prosper by offering odd jobs for only $35 a day. Even if they were to work all day, the homeless would be happy to receive the money, as it is just enough to feed their addiction. This fuels them to stay in town, where they can earn just enough to live off their addiction, but nothing more.
This was confirmed by a young man named Anthony, who prefers to work alone but appreciates every little scrap he can muster to feed his addiction to cocaine, weed and meth.
“Some residents are taking advantage of the homeless’ weaknesses,” added Vento, who honestly felt that Anthony was a hard worker capable of more than his current lifestyle. “It’s disgusting. They are feeding their addiction.”
OFFERING SUPPORT, SOLUTIONS
Although Vento couldn’t vouch for all members of the homeless community, he did feel that there were standout applicants that could be reworked fully into society if the community were to offer the right type of support.
As of now, most helpful prospects are becoming hindrances to the homeless, which invites more transients to town. As a result, Deputy Vento urges residents to stop providing money to the homeless, as many are already receiving benefits through federal food stamps or social security. Some homeless make as much as $130 to $800 a month depending on their disability or circumstance, which is more than enough to feed their addiction.
Instead, Deputy Vento suggests residents to keep the homeless occupied by offering jobs for civic clubs and services. If they are too busy working, they’ll be less inclined to loiter public parks, and may have a hand in cleaning them up. He feels that if several homeless were to lead by example, the others would follow suit, helping to impact the community in a positive route.
Other organizations that are linked to the homeless are encouraged to come up with creative ideas to offer various solutions. The Sheriff’s department has spoken with Patterson Recycling Center and St. Vincent de Paul’s Thrift Store to offer new terms of service.
Patterson Recycling Center will no longer take anything that looks to be stolen and will be checking bicycles for engraved numbers, names and addresses to see if they were stolen.
St. Vincent de Paul has also implemented a new policy encouraging the homeless to change their clothes in the store and discard their old ones on the spot so less articles may be found in the oleanders or on the streets. The green canisters that hold articles of donated clothing, known as USAgain, will be spoken to by the police department in regards of keeping their containments closed or removed.
Anyone with ideas are also welcome to call Deputy Noel Vento at 895-8080 or email a solution for the public to review as a letter-to-the-editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Brooke Borba at 892-6187, ext. 24 or email@example.com.