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December 29, 2009

Walnut Creek's homeless: members of our a community or a blight?

At a Christmas party a last week, I ran into an old school friend whose home backs up onto one of Walnut Creek's waterways that has become an unofficial site for campgrounds for some of our homeless residents.

Or instead of the term, "homeless," how about "residentially challenged?" This term was introduced to me by a local homeless guy I once met. It turns out this guy, whom I'll call "Sam" actually went to the same high school, and he grew up about a quarter mile from me. He laughed and called himself "residentially challenged." We ran into each other during one of my visits to Fresh Start Walnut Creek, the respite and services center for the area's homeless at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Trinity Avenue.

The school friend I ran into at the party had bought the house he had grown up in near downtown Walnut Creek from his siblings. During our chat over cocktails and appetizers, this friend complained about some creek campers wandering onto his property, and some other transient-looking guys once wandering up his street in the morning, just as he was leaving for work. He felt like they are casing out his home. Self-employed and needing to meet with clients, this friend was reluctant to leave his home.

At the time time, this friend also spoke in good terms about some of the "regulars" we all see around town.

One is this guy we'll call "Bob." You might yourself be acquainted with Bob. He is a slender 60ish fellow. I often see him near the California Boulevard bridge that crosses over Las Trampas Creek near Trader Joe's.

I've talked to Bob." He's friendly, articulate, forthright. When he and I both get the time, and if he were willing, I'd love to hear his whole story. In passing, he has told me that he's a long-time central Contra Costa resident and has been living on the streets for about 20 years. I gave him some money once--which I had been told is a "no-no" from when I was living in San Francisco, because you don't want to be giving money to a guy who might use it to feed a drug or alcohol habit.

I knew Bob would use it for good purposes. He expressed profound gratitude, saying that the money would help his friend, a disabled woman he looks after. He lives with her in a makeshift structure he built under one of the creek bridges. Without him, she might not survive.

After the holidays, Bob will be getting hip replacement surgery. He's got the surgery all set up through the county's medical services.

"Bob" is also a Fresh Start client, and said he himself was not pleased about some noisy, messy people who had moved in across the creek from him. "Talk about crazy," he said, when I told him that I ran a blog called Crazyinsuburbia. Sam, the Fresh Start client I met on one of my visits there, explained how the homeless always try to police themselves and look after one another in the encampments.

I saw Sam in passing at the Fresh Start Christmas Eve celebration. I have written several articles about Fresh Start. I am admirer of its late founder, Susan Prather, and of Creek Kids Care, the volunteer organization created by Walnut Creek elementary, middle, and high school students who raise money for Fresh Start programs.

I had heard Bob was going to show up at the Christmas Eve celebration as well, but he had not arrived by the time I had to leave. The living room of the house at St. Paul's Episcopal, which has been converted into the Fresh Start headquarters, was crowded with clients and staff. (Below is counselor Andrew Thompson).


They were there to hear a talk by Walnut Creek Police Chief Joel Bryden, and then to feast on a special Fresh Start meal.  Fresh Start counselor Andrew Thompson echoed what I had heard from some Fresh Start clients and staff: that the Walnut Creek officers try to maintain good relations with the organization and help street people who look down and out, instead of automatically busting them for a crime. The chief was pleased to hear some examples of how Fresh Start clients had been treated respectfully by his officers and brought to the center to receive the wide variety of services it offers. However, the chief cautioned that if any street people make problems for businesses and residents--through noise, littering, other behavior that is dangerous, disruptive, and/or illegal--that his department and the city will have to take action.

The chief's visit was quick; he probably had a lot on his calendar for Christmas eve, but he left with clients and staff feeling gratified by the outreach. 

Another thing I have heard is that this sort of more accepting attitude--along with Walnut Creek's central location and concentrated downtown--make it attractive to homeless people. 

That might not be the sort of thing my Christmas Party chum would like to hear. He's concerned that the city doesn't do enough to protect the interests of home and business owners; nor does the county.  He happens to live in an unincorporated section off downtown Walnut Creek.

If you live or work in or near downtown Walnut Creek, what has been your experience with the homeless among us? Good? Bad? 

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Less wine... more editorial scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

They're a blight and it's their choice.

Anonymous said...

SM,
Remember that the trolls of WC are always watching you. Don't let that keep you from doing your good work,including humane reports on difficult issues.
WC Human

Anonymous said...

I used to live in the apartment building right next door, and one time found a couple of them smoking weed where the trash bins were.

And they always hang out on the sidewalk in front. not pretty, but not aggressive like in SF.

I always wondered if the buyers at the Mercer knew they had a homeless complex a couple of buildings next to them if they'd be so eager to pay what they did for their apartments.

Anna, The Lemon Lady said...

Good article. I once read the entire Fresh Start website. Interesting, though sad story about a professional football player who was homeless in Richmond. Homelessness is such a difficult topic, yet touches so many lives, even those we may least suspect.

I've been meaning to visit Fresh Start someday. I've read such good things about their program and efforts.

Anonymous said...

I'm a practical person. I would like to see the homeless problem solved by moving the mentally ill homeless, and there are many, into mental health facilities. Unfortunately, most of those were shut down. Then, move the addicted into treatment facilities so they could recover and move into productive jobs. For the remaining folks, move them into housing and insist that they take up some productive activity.

Unfortunately, after the ACLU and others get through with you no such actions can be taken.

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Dear 7:51 p.m.
Thanks for the reminder, and I cleaned up my grammatical errors. Can't blame the wine though yesterday :) The program was working slowly ... And, hey, it's just me doing this, so I, uh, appreciate the shout-out when I get small and big things wrong.

Anonymous said...

Well there goes the neighborhood. From my understanding Walnut Creek always had a homeless problem along with drugs. It is fast becoming the tenderloin of the east bay, with declining property values, a growing homeless population, and inept and corrupt overpaid city officials, police etc, doing nothing to move them out of the area.

I am so embarrassed to live here. Been here 2 years, and it is a miserable crime ridden area filled with mean, lazy, complainers. I cannot believe my husbands company chose to open their nor cal headquarters here. I am really not looking forward to raising my children in this area. I am trying to convince my husband to relocate his office to the Silicon Valley.

This place is going down hill faster than it tried to move up the food chain. You just cannot change a leopards spots.

Anonymous said...

I am sick of walking by traders joes and seeing shopping carts and garbage piled right across the street. Things really need to change or I am going to move.

Anonymous said...

"There goes the neighborhood?" Really? Where have you been living your entire life that Walnut Creek is the tenderloin of ANYWHERE? Between 2005 and 2008, there has been a total number of 4 murders and 17 rape charges in Walnut Creek. While in San Jose (the capital of the Silicon Valley) there were 119 murders and over 800 rape cases. I fail to see what is so wrong with Walnut Creek. Yes, there are some homeless. There are homeless in any given town in California. Most of the homeless (in Walnut Creek at least) aren't a threat. Some are creepy, yes. If you see the big fat one, just ignore his cheesy one-liners and call him Peter. That's his name. If you see the younger one with no shirt, that's Ryan. The one that looks like a flamboyant Iggy Pop? No one knows his real name, all the homeless refer to him as Pinky. All the rich white folk in Walnut Creek need to take a chill pill and re-evalute the things that really matter.

Anonymous said...

This is an old post. Some of the anonymous post were pretty cold hearted. I wonder if those posters survived the Great Recession? Or perhaps they are now Homeless?

Some great people from Hillside Church have a Monday lunch every Monday at Civic Park. They are getting people off the streets, back to work and back home!

Oh, by the way, I am not afraid to give my name
Ed McGrath

Anonymous said...

I live next door to that church. I don't so much mind the homeless up and down my street (although it seems to be getting worse, and not at all why i moved to WC). I pay super-high rent so I can live in a clean safe neighborhood. Between the growing homeless issue and the crazy fights and weekend drunkards, I might as well pay a fraction and move to Oakland or Hayward. Hell, even Concord.

My biggest issue is that they seem to be wandering downtown more. I get hassled for change, and I do a lot of my work from a cafe downtown where barely a day goes by when one of them doesn't wander into the cafe outdoor area and ask me for change or a cigarette. The crazy ones sit at a table nearby and talk to themselves, or yell, or sleep. Not appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Folks living in this area when they lost their jobs or their homes obviously are members of this community we need to help when we can 'n certainly need to tolerate when we can't. Those who come from out of town in hopes of taking whatever extra resources WC residents have to offer, on the other hand: just say no.