News


Pleasanton's hidden homeless

Displaced individuals and families find refuge wherever they can

They fly under the radar, staying out of sight for the most part. If you didn't know where to look, or when, it would be easy to miss them.

They live in cars and campers in parking lots, under overpasses and "couch surf," staying with family and friends.

They're Pleasanton's homeless.

Homeless in general seem to fall into two classes: those who are homeless by choice and those left homeless by circumstance. Many of those who choose to live on the street have a history of mental illness or substance abuse; some have fallen through the cracks.

"Bob" (not his real name), for example, likely falls into the first category. He's hesitant to speak, but admits he's been homeless "for years and years." When asked where he lives, he replies, "That's between me and my God."

Asked how he came to be homeless, Bob launches into a complicated tale involving identity theft, the Internet and the English, offering a photocopied letter to prove his point.

Another homeless man, 50-year-old Randolph Gonzales was found dead in his sleeping bag last month. Gonzales was found mid-day on Dec. 5 by a bicyclist on the Alamo Canal, not far from Johnson Drive, a stone's throw from the Pleasanton Hilton hotel and ClubSport.

Jenna Jurich said her husband and daughter were nodding acquaintances with the man, who, she said, had lived there for about three years.

"He seemed like a very nice man," Jurich said. "He stayed in his sleeping bag most of the time and he would say 'watch your head' and wish them a good ride."

"He really did touch our family. They were sad when he was gone. They miss him -- he was like an old friend," Jurich continued. "Their rides won't be the same."

Gonzales died of congestive heart failure, according to the Alameda County Coroner's Office, and his death highlights one of the struggles of the homeless -- access to health care and other services. A 2011 preliminary human needs assessment notes that Axis and Tri-City Health Center are crowded and wait times can be very long.

"Axis is in high demand and over capacity. Not everyone is guaranteed access ... and only some services are free," said one participant in the survey, who is dealing with a foreclosure and needs low-cost health services.

Gonzales also had an alcohol problem, according to Jurich. Axis has a program for that, but a participant must want to attend.

Bob and Gonzales are evidence of the traditional motion of the homeless, but the economy has created another kind of homeless: people who have lost their homes and are living in cars, vans or trailers. Some of them still have their jobs and head off to work like usual, although others have lost it all.

On a recent morning, the parking lot at Wal-Mart contained eight cars and nine campers with people inside. It's not easy to tell until one looks for the signs, according to "Al" (again, not his real name), who slept there for a couple of months after losing his home. Those signs, Al said, include vehicles with their motors idling overnight, and those with frost inside as well as outside, car seats laid flat with sleepers braving the winter cold, and sheets, blankets or silver solar reflectors set up to provide some privacy and block the parking lot lights.

Wal-Mart is a safe haven for the homeless, Al said. The company has for years had a policy allowing overnight sleepers, largely to encourage people traveling in recreational vehicles to wake up there and come inside.

"One thing about the homeless, the people on the streets, they're very stealthy, they stay low," he said. He said those staying in parking lots know one another, but rarely talk, although many head to McDonald's on Santa Rita Road just after dawn to warm themselves with a cup of coffee, typically gathering in one section of the restaurant.

Al said his story is about the typical American dream turned bad. He had a house, cars and big screen TV until the economy and his business crashed.

"It was a long process," he said. "I used to have a home in Tracy. I lived there for about 21 years."

He raised his son, who's now 19, there.

"I was a self-employed painting contractor," Al said. "I had the house, I had the business, I had good money. ... When you lose those things, they're no longer important."

Al is now staying with a friend, couch surfing, so he doesn't have to worry, at least for the time being, about the cold weather.

"I didn't have a lot of people backing me when I went down," he explained. "A lot of people, they do this on their own. ... (But) blue-collar workers, we were just pounded."

There are a number of reasons Al's dream soured. He said he was in a bad relationship, and as his troubles worsened with the economy, he got involved in substance abuse. He's been selling his possessions to get by, and had a small insurance settlement to draw on for a while.

Now, he's working to rebuild his life on a smaller scale. He's clean and sober, thanks to a 12-step program, getting about 25 hours a week in a different field, and hopes to start his business again.

"I've cleared a lot of legal issues, a lot of fines, a DUI, a lot of legal costs -- 2008 to 2010, those were rough years," Al said.

It's hard to come up with an exact figure of homeless people in Pleasanton, according to Samantha Burrows, director of homeless and family support services for Tri-Valley Haven, which offers temporary housing for families.

"It's a really hard thing to do because they're not all congregating somewhere -- they're hiding; they're going to be somewhere secure," Burrows said. "It's not an exact science."

She said a 2011 one-night survey showed that on any given night, there are 4,178 people in Alameda County who are homeless, but the numbers shift and don't count people who don't show up at shelters or food banks. That number is down from 4,341 in a survey done in 2007.

While there is a core of the homeless in Pleasanton, there are others who are just a paycheck away from being homeless.

That's the case for Joe (again, not his real name). He is one of the 50 or so people who come to Open Heart Kitchen's free meal in Pleasanton on Fridays and hit the kitchen's other giveaways in Dublin and Livermore.

"I make my rent, but food isn't something I am able to afford," he said. "I used to be an upper-middle-class person."

With temperatures recently dropping into the 20s overnight, the choice between food and shelter for Joe and those like him, at or near the poverty level, may be an even more difficult one.

Comments

Posted by Emily W., a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2012 at 8:44 am

Very interesting!


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Jan 20, 2012 at 9:21 am

Tragic. Thank you for the shelters and feeding the homeless.


Posted by Repleasnacrat, a resident of Stoneridge Park
on Jan 20, 2012 at 9:29 am

Im not quite sure if this qualifies as "very interesting". The pop of Alameda Co is 1470000. The unofficial estimate of "homeless" is 4100ish. Thats .002 Unfortunately, so many oh these poor folks haven't the mental capacity to function in society.Many are also very self destructive. Most have minor criminal backgrounds. The amount of resources we contribute as tax payers to "manage" these folks via quasi government agencies is a disgrace. Alcohol and drugs are the root of 70-80 % of the problems. The amount of resources absorbed by these folks through police and medical tax dollars is unsustainable. While I am empathetic, the current system just aint working. And now we have just raised another generation of kids that have no work ethic. Everything was handed to them from craddle to to college. Wait and see what happens over the next 25 years...


Posted by Curious, a resident of Del Prado
on Jan 20, 2012 at 10:19 am

@ Rep - so what is your solution? Should we simply let these people starve to death or die from exposure? As members of a community, do we not have an obligation to help our fellow members? I thought that was the entire point to living in a civilized society, but when I read comments such as yours, I hear a very self centered and selfish person only interested in their own life. Do you purpose we tear down what we have built as a society, eliminate services such as police, fire, schools, and yes, homeless shelters and return to an "everyman for himself" world similar to the early Old West?

Oh, and by the way...what is a "craddle"?


Posted by Reality Check, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2012 at 11:12 am

It's true that Axis is overcrowded. Check the social security numbers used with patients and you will find many patients using the same social security number. Many illegal immigrants are getting free health care at Axis. They break the law but still get health care. My family has paid taxes for over 30 years, but we have no health care. We have a mortgage that we try to pay monthly but its been difficult as our income has been drastically reduced. If we go to the emergency room, we lose our house! I guess it pays to break the law. Only illegals and criminals have the right to medical care!


Posted by Mandy, a resident of Downtown
on Jan 20, 2012 at 11:17 am

These stories are very sad....But,there is one man who for a while lived in a driveway of a vacant home downtown. He drives and old blue truck and also has a white car the truck is pulling a yellow trailer.He makes me and my daughter feel uncomfortable i was always worried he was a sex offender staying below the radar.Is that common for sex offenders to be homeless so they don't have to provide an address?


Posted by homeLess Empathizer, a resident of Downtown
on Jan 20, 2012 at 11:56 am

Yes this is a very interesting article. As long as there is even ONE homeless person in one of the richest places on Earth ( Pleasanton easily is in the 0.001% in the world ), this article is interesting.


Posted by Lee, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Another one of our nation's problems that could be solved, if we had the national will to do so. We have the means, but not the collective will to do it!!

When our economy is down, as it is now, we need to help our fellow citizens. Shelter, food, clothes, transportation and medical care are all necessary to survive. Please do what you can to help others right now. Only kindness matters.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Highland Oaks
on Jan 20, 2012 at 4:10 pm

I sometimes get the impression that if we could save the money we waste on legal costs and morbidly-obese pensions in this fair town, everyone within the city limits could be unemployed and still live like kings off of the excess.

Mike


Posted by Steve, a resident of Parkside
on Jan 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Can we count these people towards our court mandated goal for low income residents? Just asking.......


Posted by Desiree, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Jan 21, 2012 at 11:01 am

Mandy he is harmless he used to rent a place downtown till the owners decided to sell the building.


Posted by John, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I going to assume Zadie from Ruby Hill is a joke post, pray for us all in this town if this is the prevailing attitude.


Posted by dublinmike, a resident of Dublin
on Jan 21, 2012 at 5:44 pm

dublinmike is a registered user.

John, I too am assuming "Zadie" is a joke. Mindless and poor taste by someone totally bored with their life but, hopefully, a joke.


Posted by Once Homeless, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Jan 24, 2012 at 5:46 pm

If you were to hear my families story, you probably wouldn't believe it. But, regardless, we were homeless for a couple of months in 2011. Our lease had expired in the home we had been renting for several years, and because the rental market is in such high demand now, our landlords dramatically increased the rent to a rate we were unable to afford (and, I should mention here, both my spouse and I work full-time jobs in professional careers, and have two young children.) Anyway, we had a really hard time finding a place that was affordable (under $2000/month,) that allowed a dog, and that was in Pleasanton (we wanted to stay in the school district for stability for our kids.) On two occasions, we put down $ for an application fee, only to find out there were over 40 applicants for one unit. So, when our lease expired, we still had not found a place to live. We ended up putting all our things in storage, keeping a cooler full of food in the back of our car, and staying in different hotels (that we were able to book for less than $45/night on priceline,) for several months. We would move from hotel to hotel every couple of nights, and occasionally, if we couldn't find a room (like during a large swim meet or during the fair,) we would have to find a family members house to crash at. During our time doing this, we kept it pretty hidden from most people we knew. Eventually, we found a place and we felt very lucky, but I just hope everyone here in town can realize, homelessness is not just for people who are mentally ill, on drugs, or completely broke. The "homeless" family may just be the folks you see shopping with you at Safeway and their kids may sit next to your kids in class.


Posted by Steve is an idiot, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2012 at 8:16 pm

COUNT HOMELESS AS PART OF THE LOW INCOME RESIDENT GOAL? Disgusting.


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