MODESTO -- A couple of years ago, residents and business owners in downtown Modesto complained to city officials about how homeless people had taken over McClatchy Square.
It's a small park along I Street, directly across 15th Street from the historic McHenry Mansion.
Complaints included sleeping in the park, panhandling and treating the Julio and Aileen Gallo Rose Gardens as a public restroom.
So much for the idea of taking a brown-bag lunch to the park on a crisp fall afternoon or enjoying the scent of roses in bloom.
The city responded by closing the park to thoroughly clean and repair it. When it opened two weeks later, officials imposed strict limits. Unless reserved by a group, it's open to the public only from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The issue led local officials to create a commission on homelessness, which found there was a dramatic overlap of services that needed to be better organized collectively. It also found that many of the most annoying panhandlers and thugs aren't really homeless, contradicting the general perception.
Conditions at McClatchy Square have improved over the past two years, if only because fewer folks now use the park. Yes, every morning, you'll still see people sleeping on the grass or sitting on benches hours before it technically opens, just not in the same numbers.
Gregg Miller, who owns a business near the park, says his employees and others downtown can use and enjoy it.
Greg Reis, manager of Rabobank next door, said he has noticed some improvement, although he recently had to use a pressure sprayer on the wall next to the bank's parking lot to wash away the urine smell.
What really happened is that most of the homeless who once bided their time at McClatchy Square moved up I Street to the park next to the Ralston Tower senior apartment complex.
Likewise, homeless who used to hang out at so-called Tower Park at 17th and G moved on to other parks when the city tore down the water tower and fenced off the land.
The problem isn't going away. Homelessness continues to exist, bouncing from park to park and from area to area, Modesto police Capt. Joel Broumas said.
"It's all over town," he said. "Every officer in every quadrant of town said, 'I have that in my area, too.' "
Because business owners at Coffee Plaza shopping center at Coffee Road and Floyd Avenue complained about vandalism, panhandling and other problems affecting their customers, police plan to crack down. But they know the troublemakers will just go somewhere else.
"They'll move to a different area, and someone in that area will call," Broumas said.
Some of the seniors at Ralston Tower are sick of what they see daily in the shady park next to the complex.
"Drug addiction, bumming off of us," four-year resident Dorris LaRosa said. "They fight. They beg everything from cigarettes to money. We've seen them having sex. You sit down to eat a sandwich, and they'll ask for the other half. "
LaRosa said she isn't unsympathetic to those who simply have no place to live.
"It's sad to see families with babies sleeping out out on the cold ground," she said. "I can't handle that."
Still, fearing purse snatchers or panhandlers, she said the residents take only as much money as they need when they go across the street to Save Mart.
Typically, a few cause headaches for the rest, two homeless men told me Wednesday morning. Whenever there are reports of aggressive panhandling, purse-snatching or harassment, a police crackdown is sure to follow, they said. The rougher element also preys upon the homeless.
"I've gotten robbed a couple of times," one of the men told me. "Broke-on-broke crime."
If this all seems familiar, it should.
The actions of a few some homeless, some not lead to complaints. Complaints lead to crackdowns. Crackdowns simply move the problem to another park, another shopping center or another neighborhood.
Two years ago, it was McClatchy Square. This time, it's the Coffee Road center.
Same issue, different part of the city.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.