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Galt resident asks city to deal with homeless couple

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Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 12:00 am

A local resident is asking the city to help deal with the mess created by a transient couple in downtown Galt, though a homeless advocate says the pair may have already moved on.

Al Baldwin told council members last week that he’s seen human waste and an increase in loitering near the Galt United Methodist Church. A transient may also be responsible for cutting a line used to water the lawn adjacent to the 571 C St. property, he said.

Members of the Galt Historical Society have called the police on several occasions to report when they see homeless people, according to City Manager Jason Behrmann.

Although there are city ordinances regarding homelessness, there is little that can be done, Behrmann said.

“We chase them off one property, and they find another,” he said.

This time, however, city leaders believe the same transients moved south with the help of Galt’s Project Love, an organization that reaches out to provide hot meals, free haircuts, showers, clothing and resume, career and job help to the homeless.

Founder Kevin Harcourt came across the couple a week ago last Saturday — two days before the public meeting where Baldwin spoke — and fed them dinner, cut the man’s beard, arranged a ride further south and helped them make signs more appropriate for their quandary. The boyfriend and girlfriend were on their way to San Diego from Oregon when, after three months, they happened into Galt and were spotted by Baldwin, who made the issue public.

“And Project Love had already taken care of the problem,” Harcourt said. “They were traveling through, and I just helped them out.”

It isn’t the first time. Last year, he paid for bus fare for a woman traveling through Galt on her way to Oregon.

“We do that all the time. I love doing it,” Harcourt said of the outreach.

The city recently awarded the group a $3,000 community benefit grant to help support their mission and operation.

Harcourt understands how the most recent homeless couple could alarm the public.

“It looked abnormal for Galt. They stuck out,” he said, adding that there’s a larger homeless population in Galt than most people realize.

“They’re living in people’s backyards. They’re smart enough to stay hidden,” he said.

Still, Police Chief Bill Bowen told council members last Tuesday that officers regularly drive around the city looking for homeless people to move them along. He concurred there’s not much that can be done legally.

“If they are on private property (unwanted), we need some kind of notification from the property owner,” he said. “We can’t just say, ‘You can’t be on this property.’ We need to have it posted, ‘No trespassing.’”

As for the alleged defecation issue, it is unclear whether the homeless are to blame.

Police have addressed vandalism issues believed to be caused by transients, and also advised local business owners of ways to deter homeless camps, such as keeping bushes and shrubs trimmed, according to Behrmann.

He said the problem with smaller cities such as Galt is that homeless people have no place to go, especially since they are so far from the county seat.

“We can only refer them to larger cities,” he said. “Galt does not have many services for the homeless such as mental health facilities, drug counseling services (and) shelters. Larger cities such as Sacramento or Stockton typically have more services available.”

In the end, Behrmann said homelessness is a concern in every community.

“I don’t know whether it’s gotten worse or not,” he said, adding that it’s hard to know without doing an actual homeless count and having a baseline to compare. “We have received complaints over the years about certain individuals or areas, but I don’t think it’s more now than in previous years.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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