As a Turlock man named Dalebert explained the series of events that led to his homelessness, he was surrounded by his belongings which took up considerable space at Denair Park in central Turlock. Scattered about was a random collection of things and household items. Dalebert doesn’t have a home to put his belongings.
A checkers board game sat in a crate with random knick-knacks. A five-gallon water jug sat empty, tubs of clothing, dozens of cups and bowls, a propane stove, swimming goggles, a dog kennel and even a 10-by-20 foot carpet was laid out as one would see during a yard sale, only it was not a yard sale — it’s Dalebert’s life.
During the summer months homeless people in Turlock are out and about town, evident by an increase in personal belongings taking up space at local parks and walkways.
At downtown area parks such as Denair, Crane and Central park there is rarely a day that piles of personal items and materials belonging to homeless Turlockers can’t be seen.
Dalebert wants residents to understand that this isn’t a life he wants.
“I’m not happy with this and I don’t like putting my stuff everywhere, but I’m not ashamed of my belongings or who I am,” he said.
Dalebert isn’t alone, day-camped at the same location was his friend Shannon, who said she is in the same boat.
“I used to work at a newspaper, but I developed arthritis and my fingers and wrist hurt. We’re not stupid, we are just poor and we have nowhere else to put our stuff,” she explained.
With recent budget cuts at the city, the Turlock Police Department is strapped with more pressing issues and homeless camping or mobile hoarders are low on the priority list.
“Law enforcement is reacting to this, but enforcement is really complaint driven,” explained Public Information Officer Sgt. Nino Amirfar.
Homeless advocates also have no easy fix for the public spectacle.
“Having a homeless shelter or day center facilities will not alleviate the issue, the homeless need a house,” said Jan Tucker, We Car Program director. “What you see is all they have in the world. In reality, it’s not that much stuff if you compare it to what you would have in your home. It’s just it is seen through a different pair of eyes. When a large group of people have a barbecue at a park they may have a lot of stuff out but no one thinks anything of that.”
With mental health funding cut to the bare bone in the past several decades, many homeless have severe mental issues yet remain on the streets with nowhere else to turn.
“This is a societal problem, but I think the situation is magnified because in the summer months they are more out in the open,” said Tucker.
Some downtown business owners aren’t buying what they call excuses, however.
“I am wondering why we even bother paying taxes at all,” said Diane Campbell, owner of Headlines Salon near Central Park. “I’ve had a homeless person leave their junk in front of my store, blocking the entrance and the cops came and said they can’t do anything.”
Adventure Travel owner Eva Costa said the hoarding is “getting worse and worse.” Adventure Travel is located on Main Street, directly across from Central Park.
“It just seems like in the last few years the constant stream of piles of junk is getting worse and worse and we call the police but nothing seems to happen. The city says they want to support downtown business, but if I was a new business why would I come here with all of that going on?” said Costa.
According to Sgt. Amirfar, police officers cannot remove a homeless person’s personal property without due process.
“I understand how frustrated business owners feel, we (police) feel frustrated too. But we are not a Gestapo state and we are bound to follow the law. We can’t force them to move. Now if a homeless person leaves their property on a business’ property the business can do whatever they want, but we as the police can’t do anything without due process,” said Amirfar.
On public property a homeless person may bring things with them to a location, however, if they reside in a park overnight or for days at a time police may tag their items for removal under camping laws.
Dalebert explained that at night he physically moves his materials from Denair Park to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church near Denair Park. Church officials said they have never allowed homeless people to place their belongings on church property.
“It has become a real problem, we couldn’t even get into the back door a few times,” said a church official who wanted to remain anonymous. “They find miscellaneous places to put their stuff around the area to hide it, but it has become a real problem.”
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.