Homeless: Sweep? We’ll be back

Kristin knows the drill. After 12 years living outside, she should. There’s a little confusion this time because she wasn’t around when Caltrans posted. Some people think the dozers will show up on the sixth, others think it won’t be until the seventh or eighth. Kristin is thinking it will be the eighth, but she isn’t sure. Posted notices get torn down quickly and word of mouth is seldom reliable.

“When I first came out we got swept ten times in a year,” she said on July 5, “but lately it’s about twice a year.”

There’s little she really needs. She’d like to keep the large globe she found among other discards.

“Those are the maps before longitude and latitude,” she says. “I like that kind of stuff. I like astrology too.”

Still, she knows she often has to move fast, taking only what she can carry. A lot gets left behind.

“I’m good at staying out of the way,” she says.

Despite her years of experience, she was still asleep when the Caltrans cleanup crew and Highway Patrol showed up early on the sixth.  Most everyone at the camp was caught by surprise.

With uniformed cops pushing them to vacate, Kristin and her fellow campers had to scramble to get their most needed belongings out of the way of an oncoming bulldozer big enough to clear a housing project.

Kristin Headrick 6 July 2022, Modesto CA

Barely five feet tall and thin, Kristin somehow managed to heave a heavy chair over a six foot fence and then struggled to pull a small stroller piled with belongings through  sandy soil while morning traffic roared along Highway 99 above the campsite, just north and west of downtown Modesto.

With the jaunty gait, baggy shorts, and backward cap of someone half her age, Kristin merges easily into most any urban setting. It’s only up close that her face shows a few lines of age, and even then, she looks much younger than her thirty-six years. She mostly avoids the drugs that prematurely age people, preferring marijuana to methamphetamine and opioids.

Like a great many who live outside, Kristin was diagnosed with mental illness many years ago. She tries to keep up with her medication, but seldom sees her case managers. Both of them are with organizations working under county contracts.

Clearly bright, with an agile mind that has enabled her to survive the stress and perils of homelessness, Kristin never finished eighth grade. She has a criminal record and outstanding warrants, none of which seems to bother her.

“I don’t like authorities and they hate me,” she says matter-of-factly.

Before homelessness, she worked a few jobs, most of them in fast food. The best were those that paid under the table. Many employers and homeless people prefer off the books work; it usually pays better than minimum wage, sometimes significantly better.

Like the gray and white cat she feeds, Kristin survives on quick wits and near-feral instincts, enduring what she must and hiding when she has to.

With familiar campsites within a mile, Kristin will relocate quickly. When the new site gets swept, she will move again, maybe even back here. The cat, which scurried away at the roar of the dozers, will be waiting.




Eric Caine
Eric Caine
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.
Comments should be no more than 350 words. Comments may be edited for correctness, clarity, and civility.


  1. Has anyone made it their intent to be right there, similar to the press corp, but more so to film a documentary, when the sweep happens? At least one (1), third party, PURPOSELY catching all the expressions of the police and their victims, including ALL the sounds, and, capturing the actions of the destructive bulldozer, from ALL angles, especially, as it menacingly roars toward it’s very unnecessary destination. Pictures speak volumes. It would reveal so much more than the imagination.

    Would someone put the word out in the Valley Citizen each time an accurate date of a sweep is posted. I am certain someone would want to make a surprise visit, during one of those malicious sweeps, with an objective of collecting, the right, substantial, evidence.

    I have a huge hunch quite a number of us would like to be in close proximity to a sweep, exactly when it is happening. Who is involved in setting the agenda for these heinous actions to happen? Are they willing to raise their “dirty hands” and admit their part?

    What triggers a sweep? Does it start with a phone call from a certain someone? Who has that agency, to sanction such violence? Is this scapegoating calculated to be a type of redemptive purging? Sacrificing in the name of vain pretense?

    Do we acknowledge that in the USA, the average 30 year old has never known life without the existence of homeless human beings existing visibly out in the open: on the streets, along highways, in alleys, all around. At this late stage of existence, governments, of any level, cannot justify writing off an entire mass of houseless people simply by relegating them to some “WISH” for “invisibility.”

    IT AIN’T GOING TO HAPPEN. THIS WISH WILL NOT COME TRUE. We know the houseless are out there, suffering. We know the government has failed, miserably. We know there is not enough housing.


    • It is on private property and in very certain company the owner allows it but the pressure from the city is the clear them out or fine him heavily.. If they only knew how hard it is to lose everything so often. Tracey is a city that has great homeless resources and needs to be looked at. Its only going to get worse. Being treated so poorly by police and this “comnunity” makes it worse. Kristin was unable to keep the globe.

      If there were photos or filming only about six people like you would care. The rest would cheer them on.
      Very sad.

    • Thank you. After reading countless comments full of insults, negativity and heartless dehumanizing descriptions of our city’s homeless, it’s nice to read an intelligent, well written and well informed comment that extends past just a thought but leads to resolution.

      ….juz one woman’s opinion

  2. Looking at the volume of garbage in the picture, one can easily understand why a sweep is necessary. The pile represents a huge health hazard to the homeless people who are being displaced.
    As the article states, the loss of property is not of major concern to someone who is trying to survive.
    At the very least, an organized camp would be the most humane way to operate. I understand that a camp previously existed, but I have not seen a clear explanation as to why it was disbanded.
    One would think that the current sweep method is more expensive to operate than would be a camp.
    Having some politicians go on the record to at least provide explanations as to why the sweep method is preferred to organized camps might be useful and help to discover other possible better remedies.

    • Bruce: What Frank P. said below speaks of solutions.

      Not implementing the 7 Principals spelled out below could add up to much more COST, by over reaching set boundaries, rather than maintaining viable alternatives to sweeps. Hoping we do not have to put this to the test

      The unsafe condition, those existing in the unsafe condition exist in,
      is the vicious cycle brought on and visited upon those existing in the makeshift unsafe condition. All signs point to the fact government can, must, and are most certainly being called upon to end. Sweeps asap.

      Meaning: government has to solve the unsafe condition, for those who may very likely not be able to solve themseles. It is very very apparent the government expects far too much from those they have left to fend for themselves. Decide for themselves…

      I read that some of those houseless are known to have case managers who contract with government funded agencies. What exactly is spelled out in the job descriptions of a case manager? Many may be utterly surprised to discover it may not, at all, be what the public thinks it ought to be. We do tend to take much for granted.

      The majority of social workers sit behind desks waiting for their clients to call them, and/or conduct a once yearly assessment when a client lives in a home. Person centered service is all the rage: the clients choose what they want, need, or prefer, from those paid to service them. Case Management manages the case files, not actually the client. Government decided this. Of course, if the client is harming self or others, government can step in somewhere along in the chain of events.

      Yet their are so few safety mechanisms in place that the case manager usually is the last one to know, if so. When they know most do not want to know. It means more paper shuffling work.

      The type of work Frank P. does, getting out and among those houseless, is rarer than one may think. Be grateful for a man like him. Safe Ground Camps required REAL work, and REAL fellow feeling, NOT some DESK job.

      It may very well be the reason government has failed. The job is cushy. They are not required to mingle and get first hand experience with those they keep houseless.

      As for the houseless not caring if they lose what belongs to them during sweeps, I think you missed the critical point. Of course they care. But you tell me what the hell they can do about their losses. It is all continuous nightmare. They endure by numbing to degrees, trauma and dissociative discomfiting go on in the mind automatically. Some self medicate with drugs, some over medicate to put a final end to it all. None of this is on any one’s bucket list of things to do before they die.

      Hence, government shares responsibility, and, is obligated to alleviate such suffering. Complain!

      • Not one overpaid case manager does their actual job. The resources needed do not exist. Why keep paying them but not funding those programs ia laughable.

  3. Freeh off the wire! Did the recent sweeps adhere to any of these 7 principles?

    USICH Releases 7 Principles for Addressing Encampments

    On June 15th the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released 7 Principles for Addressing Encampments. The document provides a set of key concepts to guide communities as they develop and implement their response to encampments. The seven principles include:

    1) Establish a Cross-Agency, Multi-Sector Response to Encampments: Addressing encampments requires cross-departmental and community-wide collaboration and coordination

    2)Engage Encampment Residents to Develop Solutions: Elevate the lived expertise of people experiencing homelessness and include residents in the discussions and decision-making related to their living environments.

    3) Conduct Comprehensive and Coordinated Outreach: Effective outreach connects people with shelter and housing, mental health and treatment services, and health care while being person-centered, trauma-informed, low barrier, and voluntary.

    4) Address Basic Needs and Provide Storage: Continue to have public restrooms, parks, and other community space remain open while people are still living in encampments, and continue public services such as garbage collection, sharps containers, facility maintenance, and regular cleaning.

    5) Ensure Access to Shelter or Housing Options: Encampments should not be closed unless there is an option for low barrier housing or shelter. Moving encampment residents with no place to go creates more trauma. Communities should offer a range of shelter options that are all voluntary, sanitary, safe, and meet the need of each individual or family unit.

    6) Develop Pathways to Permanent Housing and Supports: Link people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing solutions and the right level of services to make housing opportunities more stable, safe, and successful.

    7) Create a Plan for What Will Happen to Encampment Sites After Closure: Reimagine public spaces so residents can benefit from their use while emphasizing safety, accessibility, and inclusivity.

    These principles are based on emerging practices that have shown to be effective in communities that are addressing unsheltered homelessness.

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