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He sat on the curb outside a lean-to where a middle-aged woman still bundled against the morning chill hunched on a little padding against the hard Soledad Street sidewalk.

“Have you ever tried to survive on disability in the third most expensive county in the state?” he demanded to know from the man scribbling notes.

Down the block at Market Way and Soledad Street — the main crossroads in the cluster of tent-and-tarp shelters where hundreds of Salinas’ homeless have makeshift homes — a bullhorn amplified the voices of protestors Wednesday morning against city plans to raze the Chinatown encampment.

“Right now, they need to let us alone,” said the man, an 11-year resident of the Chinatown streets.

That’s what city officials decided to do, at least temporarily, on the first day of a long-planned cleanup of the warren of shelters erected by an estimated 200 to 300 homeless residents. Here’s an earlier Partisan look at the community.

Facing a knot of protestors and a few tense moments when a bottle flew and a man screamed at someone shooting video, city officials backed off plans to immediately begin clearing the homeless village hung along Chinatown’s fences and walls. Officials said they have 30 days to do the job under city ordinance.

For years, Salinas has made periodic sweeps in Chinatown to remove debris and rubbish for what officials have called public health hazards. The latest sweep — for which a federal judge cleared the way earlier this month — is different. This time, city contract crews will truck away property that homeless persons can’t carry and store it for up to 90 days at a city yard. Overnight camping would still be allowed, but everything must be packed up each morning.

“Whatever happened to the land of free?” a man in a black leather coat asked at the entrance to his tent shelter. A few feet away, a young woman cooed as she changed the diaper of her 5-month-old daughter.

Back at the corner, the bullhorn kept getting passed among Chinatown residents, homeless advocates and an official or two,

There was a promise that housing for 200 would be available within 90 days. City Councilman Tony Barrera said the cleanup needed to happen and so does suitable housing. “We don’t have the solution, but we need your help,” he said.

The councilman gave up the bullhorn as a few critics — what one homeless advocate called “part of the general staff of the poor people’s army” — shouted down his comments as hollow promises.

There was no great flurry of activity outside the shelters erected on the curving fence line visible from traffic on East Market Street. There were dozens of mostly black bicycles under the morning sun, along with a few stacked mattresses, a bunch of shirts hung for drying and loaded shopping carts. A few pigeons busily pecked at fresh crumbs.

“This is the civil rights movement of today,” said homeless advocate Wes White, ticking off earlier decades and their movements for blacks, women, gays. “(This decade) it’s the poor.”

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She calls herself simply Mrs. Coronado and she doesn’t think she or the rest of the Chinatown tent dwellers are standing in the way of anyone’s progress

His name is George. He didn’t mind sharing that. What he didn’t want to talk about was how long he has been living on the streets of Chinatown.

“What’s that matter?” he told his inquisitor. “How long, that makes no difference because time makes no difference, you know. What’s time ever done for you except make you old and it’s going to do that to me, too. Time is crap, man. It’s just crap.”

George is a heavily muscled man in his thirties. Wednesday he was wearing a tight tank top and lime green pants and he was trying to put some pedals on a bike, one of about a dozen bikes circling his tent. The Chinatown neighborhood in Salinas is home to maybe 100 encampments like George’s and even more bicycles, most of them missing a tire or a handlebar or some other important piece.

George had heard something about the city’s plan to clear out the encampments next Wednesday but had no plans to look for somewhere else to stake out some space.

“I never planned nothing in my life, man, and that might explain why I’m here, I guess.”

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon the neighborhood gave off a fairly mellow vibe. Most of the residents were off somewhere. Music played from several tents and people chatted with their neighbors.

Nights are different.

Mary, who wouldn’t give her last name, says she’s fine in the daytime but “scared out of my mind” after dark.

“I hide in my tent and I try to make no sounds at all, not move so no one notices me. I cover my head even when it’s hot.”

Mary said she is 44 and grew up in Arizona. She’s been homeless off and on since she dropped out of college.

“I’d have a home if I could put up with men but I never met a man who was good to me or good for me,” she said.

Mary said she is careful not to attract attention. A friend gave her a necklace when she was living in an encampment in Southern California and people staying nearby were talking about it.

“So that night I just put it outside my tent so they could just take it and not come into my tent after it.”

The city plans to scoop up the Chinatown tents and tarps and pallet houses next week because things have reached critical mass. There’s no plan on what to do with the people, no alternate accommodations in the works, but officialdom is frustrated by the situation and feels it has to do something, even if it’s wrong. The place is a lot like a refugee camp but without the Red Cross serving meals, without running water, without enough toilets, without enough security.

A man of about 60, a Pacific Islander, said he knows why the city is pushing the people out.

“It’s the new Taylor Farms building,” he said, referring to the 6-story office building recently completed nearby on Main Street. “They have people coming from all over. From Japan and Asia and England and when they’re up there on the top floor doing their barbecues they look down and the first thing they ask the Taylor brothers is ‘Is that your workers down there?’”

He didn’t want to give his name and he didn’t say how he knows what he knows. He said that Chinatown will start filling back up with homeless folks three or four days after the upcoming sweep.

“That’s what happened last time and the time before,” he said. He added that he isn’t that worried for himself because he owns a house that happens to be full of relatives at the moment and he has a daughter he can stay with if things get too rough on the street.

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There may be more bikes in Chinatown than homeless people

Across Soledad Street, from inside a pile of rugs and tarps, a woman called out to a man standing nearby, “Hey, mijo. Get my lunch.”

“Be quiet,” he replied.

“I won’t be quiet. My mouth won’t let me.”

“You be quiet.”

“You be quiet. Shut up and get my lunch.”

“OK.”

Another woman, Deborah, said she has been homeless for nine weeks and felt fortunate to be staying in a bunk provided by Dorothy’s Place, the neighborhood soup kitchen.

“I came here from Carmel,” she said. “I’d never been homeless before but I had to get out of a bad situation.”

Abuse?

“Verbal abuse,” she replied. She was carrying her belongings in a backpack because she has to leave Dorothy’s Place at 6 a.m. every day and find somewhere to hang out.

Another fellow without a name said the upcoming “raid” is “ridiculous.”

“There are like 2,600 homeless people in Salinas and like 300 beds and they’re not all for the homeless. They’re for the mentally ill and stuff. What do they think, everybody’s just going to leave town? Where the hell are they going to go.”

The man, 45ish, in an Army jacket and doo-rag, asked if the visitor could spare a couple of bucks for food.

“The Health Department just closed down Dorothy’s Place so we got no place to get food.”

The gullible visitor coughed up a couple of bucks and learned minutes later that, no, Dorothy’s Place had not been closed.

A sad-eyed young man sitting on a curb said he’d be glad to chat.

“Call me Ysidro,” he said. “That’s not my name but that’s what you can call me.”

“Things are pretty nice here right now,” he said,  “but you should have been here last week when it was raining. It was like living in a swamp but without fish or boats. It was like you could never get dry and even under a tarp or something the rain noise would never stop making you crazy.”

While Ysidro talked, a big, shiny, white Chevy Suburban drove by slowly, windows down, rap music pounding from inside. The driver was a fat guy with a beard.

“That’s the ice cream truck,” said Ysidro, “but he’s not selling ice cream.”

What is he selling?

“Not ice cream.”

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Raul has been a Chinatown regular since he was 12. At the moment, he makes enough from collecting cans to be able to afford a motel room

A friendly older man, Raul, sat on a bench below a No Trespassing sign and rested. He was worn out from a morning spent hunting down bottles and cans from trash cans, trying to fill the shopping cart next to him.

“Hard times,” he said. “Hard times.”

“I’ve been coming here since I was 12,” he said. “I’m 63 now. All of it has been hard. What do I know? Never be lazy.”

Raul said he makes just enough collecting bottles and cans to afford a room at the Royal Motel over by the In-N’-Out but isn’t sure how long that will last.

One of the striking things about the neighborhood is the amount of stuff, random stuff, that has essentially washed up on the side of the streets. There are the bikes, of course, and grocery carts, refrigerators, plastic toys, cardboard boxes, old signs, tree limbs, lumber of all types, plastic crates, garbage bags, bottles and cans, broken exercise equipment, a basketball hoop, broken toys, even generators, some that actually work. One of those was humming Wednesday under a tarp that also covered a camper shell. Inside, young men in backward baseball caps were smoking a joint.

“I don’t know those guys,” said the owner of the camper shell, a man in a San Jose Sharks shirt, “and I don’t know how they got in there. Scoot, you guys, OK.” They didn’t seem to notice.

Sitting alone inside her small tent was a young woman who said she liked to be called Mrs. Coronado. She wore several necklaces and her toenails were polished blue.

“It’s hard living here when you don’t have anywhere else to go,” she said. How long has she been staying here? She thought for five seconds or so and came up with “a while.” She said she’s from San Luis Obispo. She knows about the purge coming next week and is worried.

“I don’t know where I’m going to go or where anyone is going to go,” she said. “It’s not like we’re stopping progress or anything. We’re just living our lives.”

As she was telling her visitor goodbye, she had a request.

“Could you buy me an apple pie?”

The visitor handed over a couple of dollars.

“A la mode?”

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No one pays attention to signs like this in Chinatown

On the corner, three big guys wearing nylon sweatsuits were dividing a pile of cash within view of an older man who was repeatedly hitting a cinder block with a hammer for reasons unknown. There were no children in sight and only one dog, a terrier mix that flipped over onto his back and waved his little legs in the air whenever anyone came close. A social worker with a clipboard was interviewing two women who were holding hands.

An old biker-looking guy, probably in his 70s, sat on a folding chair and looked to be napping but then he barked “You’d better not take my picture.” He wore a red headband and a giant grey mustache.

OK, said the visitor. No problem. But can we talk?

“Sure I’ll talk. Whaddya want to know?

Tell me about this place.

“This place is heaven and this place is hell,” he said. “It’s where people land when they’re circling the drain.”

Why are you here?

“I’m here because everything I’ve ever touched I fucked up. I fucked up my work, I fucked up my family, I fucked up my friends. I haven’t had more than 10 bucks in my pocket in 10 years and if I did, I’d spend it on the worst booze in the world.”

What are you going to do when they clear this place out?

“Maybe I’ll get me a job and a car and a house and leave this place forever. Maybe I’ll get some new clothes and cut my hair and become respectable. Maybe I’ll run for mayor. Who’s the mayor now? Joe Gopher? Something like that. Maybe I’ll run for Congress or president.”

What are you really going to do?

“Hell if I know.”

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New plan emerges for homeless parking in Monterey

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Sofia, Bulgaria - November 4, 2014: Homeless man is sleeping on a bench in the center of Sofia. Years after joining the EU Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the union.A new plan to provide safe overnight parking to six homeless women is to be presented at the Monterey City Council meeting at 4 p.m. today. The location — a city lot next to the Police Department.

The City Council had voted 3-2 last week against a use permit that would have allowed six homeless women to sleep in their cars at the Methodist Church on Soledad Street as part of the church’s One Starfish program. (See previous Partisan article here.) Supporters expected approval but Councilwoman Libby Downey decided at the last minute to vote against the plan because of strong opposition from church neighbors, who said they had already been dealing with negative interactions with homeless people.

Downey said afterward that it was a difficult decision that some had misinterpreted as a slap at the homeless and the One Starfish program. She said she remained fully supportive of the program and her only concern was the location. Since the vote, she has worked with city staff to come up with an solid alternative, and she said Tuesday morning that she believes they were successful.

With council members Alan Haffa and Timothy Barrett strongly supporting programs to aid the homeless, look for approval of the new plan.

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Sofia, Bulgaria - November 4, 2014: Homeless man is sleeping on a bench in the center of Sofia. Years after joining the EU Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the union.City Council votes 3-2 not to offend the neighbors

Minnie Coyle, the late mayor of Monterey, was known for many things, but a single sentence published in the Monterey Peninsula Herald possibly best describes her legacy.

“Almost like Horatio at the Bridge,” the Herald declared, “Monterey Mayor Minnie D. Coyle symbolically stood at the city gates last night ready to protect the citizenry from the ‘flower children.’”

The issue, of course, was the city’s crossed-armed resistance to organizers of the Monterey Pop Festival.

Now enter our new Horatio and his small army — Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson and the council majority — to protect the citizens from six homeless women who are trying to make their way in this desperate world.

By a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the Monterey City Council denied a use permit that would have allowed six homeless women to sleep safely in their cars at the Methodist Church on Soledad Street.

Later in the evening, the council also rejected an ordinance that would give homeless people overnight shelter within the warm and sacred confines of local churches. This last ordinance was considered an “urgency” action, formally and morally, since the weather has been cold and inclement lately and there is significant fretting among those who possess a modicum of compassion that more homeless people might die without shelter.

The bodies of two homeless men were found across the street from Trader Joe’s last month, killed by their apparent inattentiveness and preparedness to prevailing weather conditions. By police accounts, they had earlier declined officers’ offer of help.

Before ruling in the Methodist Church case Tuesday night, the council heard from a long line of neighbors with legitimate complaints about the headaches caused by encampments of homeless people in and around their neighborhood. In particularly, vagrants, beggars and homeless haunt the gullies and backwoods near Del Monte Shopping Center and many of them make the nearby Union Bank property their toilet.

The neighbors described a long list of the bad behavior they must endure, and for that they deserve our pity.

But then they argued that allowing the Methodist Church to use six spaces in its parking lot so that homeless women in cars can sleep comfortably and safely will further degrade the neighborhood.

Each neighbor agreed that the Methodist Church program, called One Starfish, is righteous and beneficial and deserves our support. Many of the neighbors felt compelled to preface their public testimony with statements asserting that they are compassionate and giving people who would give the shirts off their backs to homeless people, as long as said homeless people are situated somewhere other than their general vicinity.

They pointed out that many other parking lots are better suited for such activity. Indeed, there exists a quiet and functional parking lot, away from the madding crowd, behind City Hall and Colton Hall that might be used. And they do have a valid point. A Capitol Idea, one might say.

And, ultimately, it’s one of many other sites the council might consider now that it rejected the Methodist Church parking lot.

Still, even after the council voted against the Methodist site as a safe parking place for harmless homeless women, the neighbors’ problems haven’t been solved. The council action Tuesday did not a thing to remedy the vagrancy problem in that neighborhood.

For the record, councilmen Alan Haffa and Timothy Barrett cast votes in support of One Starfish.

While the One Starfish issue was a localized rejection, the council’s action on church shelters was more of a citywide rebuff of compassionate treatment of folks who are down on their luck.

This was an outright rejection of the I-Help model of grace and humanity, egged on by homeowners who declared that offering those who are less fortunate than the rest of us a dry, warm place for the night only encourages them.

Almost 50 years ago, the Herald scribe who covered Mayor Minnie Coyle was not the only bemused observer of her brigade of finger-waggers. Also on the scene was Jann Wenner, founder and publisher of an upstart magazine called Rolling Stone.

Wenner’s account of the unfolding drama, published in 1968, feels appropriate today: “And so it began to happen in Monterey: a bizarre enactment of the entire American tragedy.”

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