“Hi, we’re from Project HOPE,” said the two young women, working together, as they approached on a well-trodden path along the treeline of an undeveloped field.
“Hi, I’m from Project Hopeless,” responded Jack Beebe, a homeless man facing eviction Thursday from his camp in the treeline off Arnold Industrial Way. It’s typical of the self-deprecating humor of Beebe, 60, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam war.
Project Hope, which offers outreach and food and water to the homeless of Contra Costa County, is one of offering help to a major homeless encampment.
For a week and longer, the agencies, Lowe’s home improvement store (owner of the property) and the Concord police have been collaborating on cleaning up the extensive camp and rousting more than 15 people who have lived there in recent weeks.
Authorities have told Jack Beebe and his tentmate, Dave Strongman, and other people living under the trees to clear out by Thursday. On Thursday morning, Lowe’s has a hired crew coming in to trim the tree canopy and clean up brush to reduce the concealment of the numerous camp spots, said Lt. Robin Heinemann of the Concord Police Department.
On Saturday, there was a coordinated effort with police and social services agencies that resulted in a couple of homeless people leaving the Lowe’s area and one being transported to the hospital.
“We’ve been going above and beyond to help those individuals who need the help,” said Heinemann.
On Thursday, the police will be there to monitor the eviction and offer to make phone calls for homeless people to see about services and spaces in shelters, said Heinemann.
Beebe said the idea of going to a shelter makes him anxious. “I don’t like laying there where there’s snorting and hacking and people smelling,” he said. “I just want to find a place to lay my tarp down and then throw out my sleeping bag, and me and the dog will sleep there.” His dog is named Crom.
Beebe said he planned to leave Wednesday, take a bag full of cans and bottles to get some recycling deposits, and then find that place to lay his tarp down.
“Cops are a necessary thing,” said Beebe, “but I really don’t like them.”
The field, about the size and shape of a football gridiron, is lined on its long sides by trees and bushes where people set up camp.
“The thing is: We have no place to go,” said Dave Strongman, who shares a tent with Beebe. “If there was a church to support us or something, we’d be grateful.”
Strongman, who has a dog named Buster, said he had a job last year at the Diablo Creek Golf Course, which is about a mile from the homeless encampment. He said he was fired the first of the year.
Strongman and Beebe have a neat camp, with a tidy border of small rocks and a drainage trench dug around a tent, as a conscientious backpacker would do.
Strongman said he has been homeless for more than 20 years, the last four years in Concord.
Strongman feels the authorities often engage in collective blame of people in the homeless camp. Some campers are messy, but that doesn’t mean all are, Strongman said.
Police suspected people from the homeless encampment of stealing brass vases from the adjacent Memory Gardens Cemetery on Memorial Day. Strongman said he saw a man coming out of the park carrying a suspicious bag and he tried to catch him but was not fast enough. It was no one from the homeless camp, he said.
Similarly, he said, authorities blamed the homeless for deep ruts that recently scarred the field between the Lowe’s store and the homeless camp. Strongman said he saw a truck with big wheels doing doughnuts in the field one day.
Many people at the camp make “big messes,” Beebe said. “They fight and scream and argue.”
Beebe said he has been homeless 13 years in Concord, and before that 15 years in Denver.
Beebe said authorities told him, “If you’re still here Thursday, we’re taking your s***.”
He said he received two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam, starting as a Navy hospital corpsman for a Marine unit at the unit.
“I got tired of stacking Marines in body bags,” he said. He worked to get a transfer to an aircraft carrier, the Kitty Hawk, as a bosun’s mate.
Many people who live in the Lowe’s field go to the nearby Highway 4 underpass once a day where a homeless advocate named John brings them food, Beebe said.
The rousting operation angers Strongman. “Why are we picking on the littlest people in the world?”