A homeless man rode his bicycle filled with belongings along West 27th Street on Friday afternoon. The man, who didn't want to give his name, said he used to live at the Black Rascal Creek homeless camp.
Asked where he was headed, the man replied, "I can't divulge that, for obvious reasons."
Not all the homeless from the two campsites are headed to the shelters or friends and family, as the city has maintained they would since the no-camping ordinance went into effect Wednesday.
Moreover, the D Street Shelter has seen no homeless people from the Black Rascal Creek and Bear Creek camps show up this week, according to Brenda Callahan-Johnson, executive director of the Merced County Community Action Agency, which runs the shelter.
She added the shelter had at least 20 beds available during the weekend.
"My expectation is if they are going to come, they would come closer to the eviction," she said. "Time changes everything. It's a really hard population to forecast on."
After the no-camping ordinance, the question remains where the homeless will go. The potential spread of homeless people across the city has alarmed some residents -- especially those living near the Sierra Presbyterian Church, where a handful of homeless have pitched their tents.
One woman, who didn't want to be named because she works at the Merced County Jail and doesn't want her job compromised, said she was concerned because her daughter walks to school and wondered whether the people living at the church included sex offenders.
In an earlier Sun-Star interview, Dave Domico, Merced's parole unit supervisor, said his officers can't tell parolees where to live, especially those classified as 290s -- homeless sex offenders. All they can do, he said, is tell them if where they choose to live is legal according to the law. While he admitted there are few places that most of the 290s can live in Merced except at the camps, once the ordinance goes into effect, his officers will have to make sure the 290s obey that ordinance.
Merced parole officials didn't return calls Friday afternoon and declined comment earlier in the week on the whereabouts of the 290s.
Homeless advocate Renee Davenport said there were no 290s allowed to stay in churches, schools or parks. She stressed the homeless aren't allowed to have alcohol, drugs or weapons at the church.
"If they are, they have to leave," she added.
Davenport said there were 15 people who stayed at the church Wednesday night.
"We're not saying the shelter hasn't done a great job, but we are saying that people who didn't want to go there, why should they be scattered all around like dogs?" she asked. "The Bible says feed the hungry, and people who can't help themselves."
Herb Opalek, executive director at the Merced Rescue Mission, said he can take in at least 15 people, depending on the day. On an emergency basis, he said he can take up to 30. "We will let them stay as long as they want during the crisis," he said. "Beds have gone up. Food consumption has gone up and we are getting more people and (giving out) more bag lunches."
And he said he can take in four or five pet animals.
Meanwhile, some downtown Merced area businesses have seen an increase of homeless people around their establishments.
At J&R Tacos, co-owner Oscar Torres said a lot of homeless people sat behind his restaurant in the past. "They are homeless, there are some new faces," he said, but he wasn't sure if they were from the camps.
Sweet Temptations Bakery owner Amanda Bowers said she had seen at least five or six homeless people since Thursday sitting across the street from her establishment on the benches. "There haven't been any down here for weeks," she said, adding there were just the usual two or three who wanted to use the bakery's restroom. "They're not bothering anybody, just sitting on the benches." (She's the wife of Sun-Star online editor Brandon Bowers.)
Opalek stressed that homelessness can't be solved by securing a place to sleep. "You cannot settle the problem with homelessness in any community just by finding beds," he said. "What you have to do is change lives, you have to educate and reorient, get medical help, give social lessons -- it has to be a complete package."
While some of the homeless can still be seen around town, many others seem to have done the same as the man on the bike on West 27th: moved on to an undivulged location.
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.