The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review


Monday, October 3, 2016

Delta Snake Review: On The Road With Al and Ivy - Oct. 3rd: A Homeless Journal


"What flattering scenes our wandering fancy wrought...each finding, like a friend...and from each contact new strength and light..."

- Alexander Pope (selected lines from Epistle To Mr. Jervais)

...when a man's fancy turns to food...

I often contemplate food of course, and have realized that "burning out" on food is really a psychological thing...I'd have quit eating spam a long time ago but now it's just a matter of good food the canned stuff for last, when there's no more food and the thought of spam with mustard and ketchup spooned out of the can with a hobo fork becomes fonder than a thanksgiving memory...people joke about how men think with their johnsons, but everybody is a slave to their stomach, and when the fare becomes rare and simple, your body won't betray'll all taste like chicken...

...seeing how the other half lives, life by the river...

One road that leads down to some night its pitch black and not visible unless you know it's there.

There's no actual entrance to the levee area, just some holes in the fence with the actual entrance several hundred yards's a dry riverbed, and quite deep and must have been quite a sight in it's wetter days. All rivers have life, and it's now a refuge for the younger homeless crowd. It's isolated, pitch dark at night, and well away from other camps that shelter an older crowd that sometimes harbor predators.

Closer view of a camp. It's visible from the bridge so it's not revealing a hiding place (I avoided taking close ups of camps). This site will have to be abandoned when the rains come as it's next to a large water run off pipe that's over six feet in diameter.

On one side is the riverbed which has a gravel road separating it from the main tree line, the other side is mainly orchards...there's small trees in the riverbank which are obvious camping spots. When you walk along the road, it becomes obvious how the camps are organized, with the most dense areas along the fence treeline, and scattered little camps in the riverbed. The population looks to be around one or two dozen, and it's mainly a crash area to sleep...there's some signs of permanence...a mattress here, clothes laid out to dry here there, even some books, with the greatest concentration near the actual entrance near a farm field.

This is a view heading the opposite way, towards the actual entrance to the levee in the fence line, which is along the other side of the gravel road.

I'm crossing the area during the day...the scattered spacing tells me it's small groups or couples substituting space for walls and it's just common sense to not enter any of the camps at night...same camp rules as out west during the 1800s; plus I can't see needles in pitch darkness and other items that are often dirtier than you can imagine. During the day, most of the inhabitants are gone. I mainly wanted to see what the place looked like, not look in on their private lives. I avoided close ups for that reason.

It's an ok area to crash in during the hot summers here, the nights are mild, but that's changing with the under the bridge and other places will become prime real estate when the rains start.

Some will head over to the seasonal shelters that open up in the winter, but the young women will tend to move on or only go if they have a male partner capable of protecting her...some shelters are pretty rough places for any young woman.

Most are here because of the drug scene, of course, and live like this because they've often sold everything to keep high (and eat)...I've been told that there's slummers here, that come by to join in the scene from the respectable side of town, and are welcome because they bring money and more than a little of the drugs consumed here.

I mention it because it is a fact of life, and I don't judge it here...I read here and there about drugged out homeless and hear the comments about responsibility and so on; yet society lets celebrities and the wealthy skate with the reasoning that it's a sickness, etc., so I tend to cut homeless drug users the same slack...particularly the young users; there's still a lifetime there not wasted yet. There's no point in writing them off because they're homeless...a more accurate term would be runaways that have fallen this way, out of the reach of what drove them here.

...a little bit of knowledge is dangerous - part 1...

I avoid giving certain types of advice in this blog, as generalizations are often wrong or even dangerous...but there's statements in these journals that could be taken as advice, or should be qualified.

Also, there's a lot of well meaning advice given by the old hands that isn't supposed to be taken as gospel or is just plain wrong.

Rather than write a book on the subject, each blog entry will have some info on what the media or other homeless give out as conventional wisdom.

The most common advice, from my experience is where there's "a good place to park and sleep," or where "the police are cool." In the media, it's often where to go to get services like a shelter.

The subject is frankly a book in itself, but worth covering in parts.

The key thing to remember when some homeless person turns you on to a good place to park and sleep is that the info has a "stale date" and any place mentioned is really a fluid situation. In other words, sometimes the place is good, sometimes it's not, and you often don't know till you get there and try to spend the night.

The reason is that there really isn't such a thing as a good place to sleep. 

Every inch of land in this country is owned by a private party or the government. I say government instead of "public" because even being a taxpayer/citizen doesn't mean one can sleep at a location.

It means that for any number of reasons, people are getting away with sleeping here or there, and that could change any time.

The most common place mentioned is Walmart parking lots, and most no longer allow overnight stays. My experience is that most Walmart employees could care less, and more than occasionally are among the homeless, but the stores are often under lease, and both the city and property owner don't want the homeless there.

Same with the police. They have a hard job to do, and chasing down people in their cars and RVs generally doesn't lower the crime rate all that much and they're smart enough to know it. A homeless murder will get plastered all over the media and cause public concern over "homeless crime," but the fact remains, at least in this country, you're still most likely to be killed by someone you know.

One thing a city government will do is pass stringent ordinances aimed at the homeless, and allow the police to practice "compassionate enforcement," and say that the ordinances will be enforced mainly against the trouble makers and gross violations.

Which is just and humane, but never forget that the public at large is a factor, and if a property owner files a complaint, the police have no choice but to act, though luckily most will just make you move along.

This compassionate enforcement policy also makes police action on the spot a judgement officer might pass you by, another might cite you and stick you with a fine to pay.

When I look a spot over, I'm not worried about the police, they tend to be the kindest to the homeless...I check out the people and neighborhood. That means both the people in the area, and the homeless there. If there's a lot of transients parked, it's generally a place that's become OK to sleep at least a night.

The question that runs through my mind is; do the homeless there appreciate that that area has become a seam in the fabric of the law, or are they like a concert crowd that always has a segment that flouts the law? 

If it's crowded with vehicles, are the people being quiet and sleeping or is there a lot of hanging out, music blaring and partying?

If so, if I can see it, so can people passing by, and it's an area that's at the end of the boom-bust cycle and is going to be shut down.

Don't be like the media and a lot of the public and assume that the homeless are some homogeneous's always going to be a mix of personalities, some good, a few bad...some areas stay quiet a long time, others will get too many of the wrong people and there'll be trouble. 

I remember once being told (by a non homeless) that we were all in the same boat and are brothers, which could only have been said by someone with limited experience with the homeless. There's many who would lend me their last quarter, and some who'd steal the shirt off your back, and I've seen a homeless person robbed of everything except his pants.

The question of a "safe place" is tricky...there's conventional wisdom to go to a shelter, for example, but every car homeless I've talked to who went to one won't go back unless they lose their vehicle. The reason is that many are full, and you can't get in, and some are flat out drug you have to park the car to go in, in an area that might have the transients who couldn't get in hanging one place three car homeless had windows smashed and items stolen just going up to San Francisco to try and access services there. 

One was a middle aged couple, and had to tape garbage bags over the rear window. We were at a place that got very cold at night, and it was sad to see them having to make do with plastic bags and extra clothing to stay warm.

I'm not saying every area is bad, though there'll probably be some that'll see my statements as validation for their perceptions; the point is, people know to be aware of their environment at night to reduce the risk of being robbed or accosted...the same rule applies to a homeless person.

There's been areas where the place was crawling with backpackers and vehicles, and I still felt safe enough to leave my dog in the car and go shopping for food...there's been other areas with a sparse crowd, where I looked around, and decided not to stay.

I won't even say that it's due to some experience or instinct...for all I know, I've just been very lucky.

There is some common sense involved. I never park near a dumpster or garbage can at night. Scavengers often come by and being asleep in an area with foot traffic isn't a good idea. In fact, I won't go to sleep until it's clear that the spot isn't close to a common path or transit point for foot homeless. 

I once parked in a place and found that it was a common short cut to a homeless camp. That was early on when I did silly stuff like sleep with the windows down, etc, and often found people looking in, asking for money, etc. 

The Ivy Corner: Shih Tzu Sleep Habits

Shih tzu's have the reputation of being couch potato dogs that don't anything and can seem that way to the casual observer who can't process nuance.

Is Ivy mediating or sleeping? Probably both...

The fact is, they're probably more active than your average NFL fan sitting in front of a TV or mall shopper, though I may be splitting hairs here.

Ivy has several R.E.M. states, from deep sleep that can last ten hours, or short naps taken between events...sort of like me except that I rarely can manage ten hours sleep...she likes to switch back and forth between the two beds in the back seat, gaining some cardio benefit as she hikes between those, which helps build up the stamina to chew food and go to the bathroom.

There is the snoring; most dogs that have short snouts tend to saw logs as they sleep, but I rarely notice because of my habit of wearing earplugs when's a mercy that convinces me there is a God.

Ivy turns day into night...

I'm sure someday that science will unlock the Shih tzu mystery and we'll find that Ivy's dream will rival the complexity of a James Joyce novel. Until then, we wonder at the serenity of the Shih tzu mastery of sleep...