Caltrans allegedly mistreats homeless

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A line of tents runs along the slough, directly under the Interstate 5 freeway. It doesn’t always stay along Weber Avenue, though.

Sometimes the individuals who sleep there are moved, forced to relocate throughout the month. These people – some with mental health issues, some veterans and others just down on their luck from losing a job – can’t afford a roof over their heads.

They’re homeless in Stockton.

“I ended up out here because I need surgeries and have been waiting for my SSI to come in,” said Patricia Henderson, a 42-year old living in the encampment. “It’s a process-it’s a long process. It’s been almost two years since I’ve been waiting.”

Henderson had to give up her apartment due to having to pay for surgeries and medication, unable to continue to afford living in her apartment.

She lives under the I-5 Bridge along with a few other trusted members of her camp, including boyfriend Tim Hill.

Members of the camp keep the area clean by picking up the trash and putting it in a pile away from the camp for Caltrans to take, keeping only what they deem as personal belongings.

“This is the pretty part, believe it or not,” said Henderson.

One of the reasons for this (besides gathering trash for Caltrans to take) the campers of this area want the area to look presentable for when family members or children visit them during weekends.

“On Sundays, there are people that do get to see their grandchildren or child,” said Henderson “And it’s actually kind of family orienting.”

This also means there isn’t any open drug use and the individuals that do drugs do them behind closed doors.

Henderson said that those who tend to be violent and are using drugs live in different areas, such as the public showers that are now gated off to the homeless.

“If you keep walking down this trail right here,” Hill said, referring to the trail along the slough, “you’ll see shower-bathroom areas that are blocked off so people can’t see.”

With the showers being blocked off, campers aren’t able to clean themselves with clean water.

“I see a lot of guys that work in the fields and take care of us, you know, that put vegetables on our plates, and they’re right here,” Hill said, “They’re right here and they don’t have a place to take a shower at night when they get off work; they got to bath in that water right there dude.

That’s the only place they’ve got to bath at to clean up and make themselves look decent.”

One may think that with how clean campers keep the area, they wouldn’t run into many issues with Caltrans.

According to Henderson, this isn’t the case.

“Caltrans doesn’t come out here to pick up trash; they come and pick up personal property,” she said

Henderson listed some of the things Caltrans picks up from the camp, items such as water coolers, fresh groceries, prescription medication and other personal belongings.

“Brand new tents, my daughter’s pictures who is away at college and who doesn’t even know I’m out here, yet,” said Henderson “Thank God she’s busy.”

Tim Hill, Henderson’s boyfriend added dog food to the list of things confiscated by Caltrans.

“They throw away the dog food that people come out here to give us to take care of a lot of these dogs out here,” he said. “And they (Caltrans) deliberately just throw it away.”

There isn’t a set schedule for when cleans up these camps, but according to Caltrans District 10 spokesman Greg Lawson, the department is making an effort to go out to the camps at least twice a month.

“We always give them (campers) 72 hours’ notice before cleaning,” said Lawson, “We don’t get their things mixed up with trash; we’re sensitive. They place their trash, we take it.”

Lawson stated that the claims of mistreatment are false and that the organization wouldn’t do the things they allegedly did.

209 Cares is an all-volunteer charity group that has worked with the city’s homeless camps and Caltrans. 209 Cares has experience helping the homeless clean up during Caltrans visits and member Nancy Lamb pokes a hole in Lawson’s earlier statement.

Lamb stated any member of the camp who walked away with something bigger than what they could carry in their hands were thrown into a large garbage pile.

Tents that the campers called home were simply tossed away, alongside medicine, food and dog food by a bulldozer.

According to Lamb, the campers were ensured by Caltrans that their belongings would be held for sixty days to ensure that respective owners can come and reclaim their items. This never occurred and many personal items were simply thrown away.

209 Cares convinced Stockton Police to take up this responsibility in their stead.

During her time at the campsite cleanup, Lamb stated that she and several other members of the group were threatened by Caltrans with having several of their vehicles towed.

“They said they’d tow our car if we didn’t stop helping campers move things and leave,” said Lamb.

One of the major issues regarding Stockton’s homeless is the lack of resources for them.

Connie Crochan, public information officer, stated that the city manager is working closely with service providers like Stockton Shelter for the Homeless and Saint Mary’s Inner Faith.

The county also has departments that specialize in behavioral health, mental health, housing needs and more, according to Connie.

“All cities are experiencing similar issues,” said Connie, referring to homelessness, “but a lot of people are here because this is where the county offices are that provide those services.”

Though there are resources available, many of the homeless feel they aren’t enough.

One of the biggest issues the homeless face when seeking to live in a shelter is that many, if not all shelters, don’t allow dogs or other pets inside, which is problematic because according to Hill, pets are like family and are likely all these people have.

This leads to many individuals choosing to live out in the streets and with cold and rainy weather approaching, many homeless are concerned about how they’ll stay warm.

“The city manager went to New York City, and I’m from the East Coast,” Henderson said, “I could’ve told them all they needed to know; they didn’t need to spend $40,000 on a trip to New York to see how they deal with their homeless.”

Henderson went on to explain why the trip wasn’t useful; because New York City gets snow and temperatures get below zero, unlike Stockton. Also, New York has more alternatives for its homeless to choose from in order for them to stay warm, like underground subways.

“It is warm down there,” said Henderson, “There’s heat as you walk through the sidewalks of the city where you can feel heat coming from the drains and vents.”

Soon, the San Joaquin County Board of Directors will decide on a plan to tackle the issue of homelessness, choosing from suggestions made by the San Joaquin County Homelessness Task Force.

While the decision is likely to take some time, as each has legal, logistical, and economical needs unique to themselves. The task force calls for a position to be created to oversee all services to the homeless as a top priority.

The task force also suggested all seven incorporated areas adopt a “Housing First” model, to get the homeless into homes quickly. Emergency shelters would help through the use of the Housing Management Information System, used to collect information of services for the homeless and open housing