Reaching Paige Mitchell’s tent wasn’t easy.

I had to squeeze through a concealed hole in a wrought-iron fence, edge along a ledge over Mormon Slough, and pass tents where dogs bounded out, barking and snarling.

But then I was able to break the news to Mitchell, 44, a homeless man who says he has lived under the I-5/Highway 4 interchange for seven years: California has awarded San Joaquin County $11.1 million to empty the encampments and move homeless residents into supportive shelter or housing.  

Mitchell went from guarded to overjoyed. “Unbelievable, man!” he said. “Really, that’s the best news I heard in years.”

The tent camps huddled along Stockton’s Mormon Slough in the shadow of the overpasses near St. Mary’s Dining Room have for decades been virtually a permanent tent city for the homeless, a symbol of Stockton’s seemingly irreducible homeless population. The money will change that. 

“It’s specifically focusing on unsheltered homelessness — the visible homeless,” said Greg Diederich, county Health Care Services Agency director.

CalTrans, which owns the land the encampments are on, classifies the area as a “high-return probable” site, meaning homeless people will quickly repopulate the area following encampment removals. 

Hence the substantial chunk of change, intended not only to clear the site of its current residents but those who follow, up to 300 people — a third of the 893 people living on the streets of Stockton, according to the 2022 Point in Time count.

The county plan shows the local government and shelter system evolving toward more comprehensive and likely effective solutions.

Outreach workers will venture into the nooks and crannies beneath the highway interchange and offer people a way out.

Those unprepared to be housing tenants — because they’re not receiving benefits, or they lack ID, etc. — will be given beds in nearby St. Mary’s Dining Room. St. Mary’s takes over Stockton Shelter for the Homeless’ 300 beds September 1. 

Case managers will help with paperwork, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, transportation to appointments, and other needs. Community Medical Center’s satellite on the grounds provides health care.

More beds are coming: the shelter has a “navigation center” opening soon, an additional 150 beds. A Pathways Project scheduled for completion by October 2024 will add 326 beds.

When shelter residents are ready, they will be moved into an apartment building managed by STAND, an affordable housing organization.

“We look at it as permanent but also transitional,” said Fred Sheil, STAND’s administrator. “We want them to get into the housing, get settled, and if at any point they want to move on to their own apartment, we will assist them in doing that.” 

What if certain homeless people don’t want to budge? St. Mary’s won’t force anyone, said Petra Linden, St. Mary’s Dining Room CEO.

“Our role as a homeless service provider is to make the services as welcoming as possible so people will want to participate in the programs and exit the encampments,” Linden said. “It’s up to law enforcement to decide what to do with the others who are not engaging in the solutions that are offered.”

Courts have ruled homeless people cannot be rousted from the streets if they have no place to go. Soon, they will. 

Will this initiative dent the overall number of homeless in San Joaquin County?

“I think this will help tremendously toward getting people out of the encampments and into shelter or housing,” Linden said. 

It remains to be seen whether the county can reduce homelessness faster than California can create it.

Sheil: “Do we know how many people are being made newly homeless every day, every week, every month? Nobody’s asking. Nobody’s looking. But we know it’s happening. In the time it takes me to create a project, two years, in that time there’s hundreds of new homeless, because the housing market is insane.”

Assembly member Carlos Villapudua expressed thanks for the state money.

“…I am grateful that the State has recognized the investments we need in our community right now through this awarded grant,” he said in a press release.

But homeless Paige Mitchell was the most jazzed of anyone. For him, there may finally be a way out of living under the freeway.

“Man,” he said, “that’d be a blessing.”

Columnist Michael Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. His views do not represent those of the Stocktonia management and staff. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email:

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