JARDINE: With triple-digits forecast, Modesto's homeless look for a place to stay cool

jjardine@modbee.comJune 26, 2013 

    alternate textJeff Jardine
    Title: Local columnist
    Coverage areas: People, issues, the community
    Bio: Jeff Jardine joined The Bee's staff in 1988 after a decade at the Stockton Record. He covered sports before moving into news in 1996 and became the Local Columnist in 2003. He graduated from University of the Pacific in 1979, majoring in communications and history.
    Recent stories written by Jeff
    On Twitter: @jeffjardine57
    E-mail: jjardine@modbee.com

— Proeuk Touch sat, legs crossed, on a cushion in front of a door at the First United Methodist Church downtown Wednesday morning. He read and then made notes on small sheets of paper.

A few feet away, a collection of items — books, a winged clay pig, a candle, some food, a plastic bottle of water and a paper cup from Jack-in-the-Box — resembled a makeshift altar.

The 81-year-old man from Cambodia doesn't consider himself homeless.

"Oh, no, no, no … ," Touch said. He tried with great enthusiasm to explain his jottings, which consisted mostly of zeros. He lives there, in front of the church.

"He considers (the church) his home at this point," Deb Howey, the church's administrative assistant, told me. "He brings us lunch every day."

She and other church officials would rather have him there, where he was out of Tuesday's rain and protected from Wednesday's heat and humidity. They would rather have him camped on the stoop of the church, where he can go inside when necessary, than to be in a shelter where the language barrier would be a problem.

In fact, Howey and others at the church are working with county agencies to find a more permanent home for him. Until that is resolved, they worry about how he'll do when a heat wave ramps up beginning Friday.

How hot? It depends on whom you trust in that poker game of weather predictions.

The folks at Weather.com, aka The Weather Channel, forecast six straight days over 100 with a high of 106 on Tuesday.

Accuweather, meanwhile, matches the six straight 100-degree days and raises the pot to 112 on Monday.

The county's Office of Emergency Services isn't planning to open cooling centers, although that could change depending upon how long the heat wave lasts.

Shade alone won't be enough for those who live on Modesto's streets. They will go wherever they can find air conditioning, and who can blame them? That is one reason why the First United Methodist Church keeps its doors open. But what about businesses and other places open to the public?

Across the street from the church, the Stanislaus County Library prohibits people from camping or sleeping on the grounds when the library is closed. When its open, and the AC is going, all are welcome inside.

Commercial enterprises, however, are in business to make money. They aren't obligated to provide free services to nonpatrons.

At 17th and I, Save Mart welcomes customers, homeless or otherwise. But it now limits access to its restrooms due to abuse by people who, in essence, gave themselves sponge baths and trashed the facilities in the process.

At the opposite end of I Street, across from the Transportation Center, signs at the McDonald's are very clear: "This is not a hangout or a shelter."

When the sign first appeared outside the store, someone stole it. So the store owner chained a new one to a metal sign post.

Management also expanded the rules to prohibit shopping carts, bags, backpacks, sleeping bags and bedrolls inside the restaurant because they were being left in the aisles and posing a safety threat, McDonald's manager Diana Cadenas said.

Another sign limits use of the dining area to 20 minutes, bans loitering, solicitation (panhandling) of customers, and no coffee refills.

"Some of our biggest customers are the homeless," Cadenas said. "We know our regulars. If they're paying customers, we're OK. But if they're just sitting there and not buying anything, we tell them they have to leave."

Some are more understanding than others.

"We've had lots of people telling us it wasn't fair," Cadenas said. "But we serve our paying customers."

And by that she means the ones who, through their patronage, pay the air-conditioning bill.

With days of heat upon us, others will need to find cool wherever they can. And that could make Proeuk Touch's little spot at the church a few blocks away seem like a Tahoe time share.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.

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