Imagine, for a moment, being a homeless person in Modesto. There are many who don’t need to pretend because they already are homeless in Modesto, or in virtually any other city in the state and maybe even the nation.
For the sake of this missive, though, we don’t need to stray. You’re out on a street anywhere in the city, but most likely downtown. Someone – a particularly burly mayoral candidate, perhaps? – approaches you.
“Where did you come from?” he might ask.
“Why?” you reply.
“Where did you live before someone put you on a bus and sent you here to be homeless?” the candidate would counter. “I want to put you back on a bus and send you back to wherever you came from. We’ll comp your bus fare. Anywhere, just leave so we can claim we’ve solved our homeless problem.”
Hmmm, you think ...
“Uh, Maui. Yeah, I’m from Maui.”
Or the Bahamas. Or, if in April, why not Paris? OK, so bus service from Modesto to any of those places is pretty unreliable. But there’s a point to this.
In just about any political race, some candidates will offer thoughtful, reasoned ideas about how they would solve problems. Others use shock value to get attention, looking to rile up the extremists on either side. Just as those who prefer to solve the homeless problem by humanizing and trying to help those who can and want to be helped, there are those who criminalize homelessness and want to run them out of town using the old out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. Who wouldn’t want to live in a community where every single person had a roof overhead, a decent income and no physical, mental or addiction issues? Cities and communities everywhere are experiencing the same dilemma and are looking for solutions, too.
From the outset of his campaign to become Modesto’s mayor, Councilman Dave Lopez began spewing that a large number and perhaps even the majority of Modesto’s homeless were, indeed, put on a bus and sent here by officials from other cities. That simply is not the case. The Modesto Bee reported in 1998 that San Jose officials sent more than 30 homeless families to Modesto. San Jose folks got an earful from the Modesto folks, and the practice subsided. The irony is that a friend with longtime ties to the Modesto Police Department told me recently that Modesto officers once routinely took transients to the bus station and sent them on their way. Did it solve Modesto’s homelessness problem?
There is a modicum of truth to Lopez’s claim that most of Modesto’s homeless came from somewhere else. Guess what? So did about half of the home-ful residents, too. Consider that about 100,000 people lived in the city in 1990. Roughly 204,000 live here now. The hospital delivery rooms certainly enjoyed plenty of activity over the past couple of decades, but not that kind of busy. Conversely, most funeral homes do a brisk business, too.
So yes, it is safe to assume many and probably the majority of our homeless weren’t born and raised here. Some came for the lower cost of living and better home values, the tradeoff being long daily commutes back to the better-paying jobs in the Bay Area. When the economy tanked, many lost their jobs and homes, and in some cases their families. Drugs and alcohol, mental illness and criminal histories are huge contributors in homelessness, and for some all of the aforementioned factor in. Others came here already homeless because it is cheaper and safer to be homeless in Modesto than on the streets of San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose, and because there are more available services here.
Lopez’s competitors for mayor certainly aren’t without their flaws. The city’s bowling alley-owning incumbent, Garrad Marsh, rolled some public relations gutterballs on the Wood Colony annexation issue and also sales tax measures over the past couple of years. Former Mayor Carmen Sabatino is obsessed with taking down Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager over Sabatino’s 2006 fraud case that ended with the jury failing to reach a verdict on the 10 felony counts; and he’s spent much of this campaign railing against the ongoing murder case involving his friend, defense attorney Frank Carson, instead of focusing on how he would conduct business under the city’s control. Two others, former planning commissioner Ted Brandvold and Armando Arreola, seem to be running low-profile campaigns, though Brandvold might be the one who forces a runoff with Marsh come election day.
Lopez earned points with me personally and The Bee when he made public his concerns over the city’s inability to monitor the Stanislaus Community Assistance Project in 2011. Bee reporters investigated the misuse of Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds by SCAP and how the city failed miserably in its oversight of the money.
Now he faces questions over the way he spent funds from his 2014 campaign for a seat on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors. As Bee reporter Kevin Valine wrote in a story published Oct. 18, among other expenditures, Lopez dropped $831 to stay in a hotel in Pacific Grove to “learn about efforts to deal with panhandling and homelessness.”
No mention, though, of a side trip to the Greyhound depot.