Stockton’s homeless challenge city resources

Living Rough: Homeless have set up an encampment located near the Stockton DMV office. (Photo by Alisa Aistrup)

Alisa Aistrup

Living Rough: Homeless have set up an encampment located near the Stockton DMV office. (Photo by Alisa Aistrup)

Alisa Aistrup, Feature Editor

In 2017, officials estimated that the homeless population in San Joaquin County consisted of approximately 1,500 people — a faulty statistic, considering that the information was gathered within a single week and limited to the county’s four largest cities: Stockton, Lodi, Tracy, and Manteca.

A large number of the homeless population — approximately a thoudand people — living in the San Joaquin County reside in emergency shelters or halfway houses. However, this number is difficult to track and verify — as collecting information on how many sheltered citizens reside in the country changes daily, considering that many move from one shelter to the next after only a couple of days.

A 2016 census, the most recent information the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless has available, stated that the shelter served 2,063 people, serving around 343 people per day. The shelter estimates around 30 percent of the population they serve were disabled, which isn’t surprising considering that nearly one third of Stockton’s homeless population reports that they suffer from a mental health condition. Another 16 percent said they have a problem with alcohol, drug addiction or both, with few not having access to help.

Some families are willing to offer their homes as temporary shelter to those in need, but even then, some homeless fear that accepting help will put the family through unnecessary stress.

“My aunt and uncle brought in a veteran homeless man five or six months ago,” junior Dillion Castillo said. “He has been looking for a job, but he’s trying not to stay for too long [for] fear of being a burden.”

Most homeless families find themselves resorting to sleeping on the streets due to the lack of room in shelters. Most commonly, families will set up tents along the perimeter of these shelters and wait for an open space. This wait time leads to many giving up entirely on finding decent housing. An official count of homeless that live in any place not meant for human habitation in San Joaquin County — in fields or parks, on sidewalks or beneath freeways — was 567 people. Of that number, 55 percent lived in Stockton.

“I see a lot of homeless people near my house behind Walmart, and I’ve been approached by many of them on my way home from school,” sophomore Leslie Troutman said. “There are a lot more living in different areas that I visit, like by the levee or near the overpass.”

Finding a solution to Stockton’s homeless problem is not completely a lost cause. In an agreement made in August 2018, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs proposed that some Stockton citizens experiencing homelessness will have the chance to pick up litter on Caltrans property (effective October) for minimum wage. The employer, Ready To Work San Joaquin, said that those employed by this beautification project will be also be provided housing.

“If you just provide somebody a paycheck for a day that really doesn’t move the needle,” Ready To Work’s executive director Jon Mendelson said in an interview with Fox40. “It’s not enough for them to secure housing, it’s not enough for them to pay for any of their living expenses.”

The city of Stockton distributed a total of $185,000 towards beautification projects and this program is set to run for three years, but Mayor Tubbs says that it may continue for longer.

Although this project may provide some homeless with a stable job with benefits, it ignores the remainder of the homeless population that are without access to basic necessities.

In January 2018, $4.4 million in Continuum of Care grants were awarded Stockton to tackle the homeless issue in the region. Vincent Contino, manager of 22 properties through Stockton, said that if the grant money is being used, it isn’t going toward the original cause. Contino continuously reaches out to many homeless who tell him that they have no resources to get off the street, nor do they have the means to purchase food or have access to restrooms.

“It’s disappointing that a city of more than 300,000 can’t provide such amenities,” Contino said in an interview with “The Record.” “These people need a bed. They need a roof over their heads — what’s hard to understand about that?”

Although there is no real way to provide shelter and a stable job to the entire homeless population in need, proposals such as the Stockton beautification project are steps in the right direction. However, despite the $4.4 million dollars in grants to tackle the homeless issue in the region, the number of citizens searching for space in shelters results in the influx of homeless families trapped in the neverending circle of sleeping on the streets.