Tuesday, February 7, 2023

A Ukiah Mother’s Disquieting Encounter With a Homeless Man at Walmart Shines a Light on the Chasm Between the Lives We Lead

No description available.
The facade of Ukiah’s Walmart where the incident occurred [Picture by Matt LaFever]

Anyone acquainted with the local police logs or the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Booking Logs has come to know  “frequent flyers” –individuals, often homeless, prone to behaviors that might trouble others, that end up in an ever-ending-loop of confrontation and incarceration, shedding light on a dysfunctional system of reactive intervention.

One Ukiah mother told us her story of an encounter between a homeless man and her toddler that left her both troubled and suddenly keenly aware of the plight these forgotten community members experience. 

By request of the mother, we will not provide her name. To highlight the circumstance and not the individual, we will not name the man who the mother encountered.  Confirmation that the incident occurred was provided by the December 11, 2021 Ukiah Police Log that simply stated a Ukiah male “attempted to take a child out of cart.” 

This Ukiah mother told us her husband has been working 12-hour-shifts, and both of her children are sick, and after running out of cough medicine, went to Ukiah’s Walmart. “This was a last resort,” she told us.

While shopping, her two-year-old slipped out of the grocery cart and hit his head on the ground.

As the mother was consoling her child, a strange series of events unfolded. A man, disheveled and wearing layers of clothes, approached the pair “not speaking English, and it looked like he was trying to bless the baby.” The mother said he was touching his face and “traced a cross on his forehead.” 

Not wanting to be rude, the mother said she smiled and walked away from him. The man then pursued her, and, she said, “handed me a $20 bill.” That is when her baby began screaming. For an unknown reason, this man then attempted to “pick him up out of the shopping cart.”

The mother immediately “hurried away,” alerted another shopper who walked her to her car, then they alerted Walmart staff and Ukiah Police Department. 

When UPD officers arrived, they told this mother, “a frequent and typically harmless drunk.”

Reflecting on the experience, the mother told us, “I don’t think that he was trying to kidnap the baby. I truly believe that he was trying to be nice and that he thought he was being helpful.” 

It was obvious to the mother that the man was “under the influence” and his presence terrified her children.

Describing the man’s actions as unsettling, the mother described her empathy overwhelming her discomfort: “I hate that my heart is so big, because I really do feel bad for him,” she said.

No description available.
Ephemera of a homeless encampment by Ukiah’s Jack in the Box [Picture by Matt LaFever]

Mendocino County’s homeless, as described in the 2018 Marbut Report, face a support network designed by a “series of one-off decisions” that focuses on the “symptoms” of homelessness (such as lack of food, clothing, and emergency shelter) instead of addressing the “triggers” of homelessness (such as addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and domestic violence).

Mendocino County has been working towards addressing these critiques offered by the Marbut Report. The public is invited to the Grand Opening of the Crisis Residential Treatment Facility on December 16, 2021, funded by Measure B, a 2018 initiative designed to bolster support for mental health care throughout Mendocino County.

Other amenities geared towards addressing these issues that are in-progress from Measure B include opening a Behavioral Health Regional Training Center that will teach first responders how to navigate interactions with the mentally ill, the construction of a Psychiatric Hospital Facility, and the hiring and training of a Mobile Crisis Response Team that will work with local law enforcement to address residents in mental duress.

As the community awaits these services to come online, Mendocino County residents will continue to navigate this guilt-ridden tension described by this Ukiah mother wanting to help the helpless, but also worried about interactions that can be very frightening. 

If you or someone you know is in need of mental health or homelessness services, consider contacting one more of the following agencies described in the document below: 




  1. Thanks Matt.
    I assume that if the upcoming mobile crisis team is to be called to assist LEOs, then there needs to be sufficient numbers of them, as well. Defunding them would be counter intuitive.

  2. We need to de-fund the privatized system that’s in place now and place the burden of our communities problems back at the County level, maybe then we can be honest and transparent about our accountability in our impoverished citizens.
    Who has been profiting off of these members of our community?
    How many have they rehabilitated, how many have become stable in our community? is there a barometer? because I’ve seen it get considerably worse yet certain agencies have built themselves an Empire off the backs of these individuals. lets build another privatized building that will get housed under this umbrella of “Continuum of Care” where the only care is maximum profits with little to no accountability and even less in the way of helping these individuals. wake up Mendocino!!…. we can do better, we deserve better

    • Ok…is the solution more taxes or reappropriating existing taxes? If the latter where is that money being reappropriated from?

      • Law Enforcement gets the lions share of all cannabis tax revenue, so maybe re-appropriate some of that money….Then serve and heal the folks who need shelter and medical help!

  3. Give them food and shelter, and it’s certain more will come. Feigned compassion is our enemy, and until that is addressed, more bums are on the way, but do they care for us while we strive to help them out?

  4. The solution is not more taxes but looking at the inadequate systems profiting and putting the accountability back at the County level. 20 million in tax payers dollars went to fund mental health….all it did was line the pockets of a grotesque entity that has been failing our youth and adults for years and for that price tag they could of built a County Psych Facility that would of benefited the people and forced more transparency then the fleecing we are currently witnessing. Anybody that thinks the county has amassed a huge surplus of funding from the Marijuana economy is out of touch with the true nature of that beast…..there’s no money coming from there failed “Cannabis Department,” definitely not a lions share

  5. When a person is under the influence enough and is no longer able to comprehend socially expectable behavior and they go to handle and take control of your child you pop them in the nose. I don’t care if it is a relative or parent. We need to choose the child’s safety over societal mishaps. If the person is mentally ill you talk to them and explain it to them, If they still go for the child you pop them in the nose. If it is grandma on too much eggnog just grab her by the ear. I don’t care how many personal or societal problems we have, children are off limits.

  6. Please, for those who are Bible believers and still believe in the sovereignty of Almighty God… this plea is to you!

    Please, fast and pray with me every third Friday of each month for our county, our community influencers, those addicted and just lost, our young people, our law enforcement personnel, and any other need you can think of. We need help. We can’t do it on our own we’ve proven that. Let’s ask God collectively to forgive us and heal our land.

  7. Please LOCO stop making us fast to solve problems, I now weigh 115 pounds , down from 190 and almighty poo poo man has not yet done anything for me or anyone I know other than pass the bread basket 🧺 on Sunday, we are born alone and we die alone, give love to your family on the ride be humble and share with those who are in need, mentally ill don’t need to be popped in the nose king ding dong. I’m sooooo hungry 😋 help me loco please 🧟‍♂️ , a prayer 🙏🏿 for you in tongue 👅 loco, e holieww shashundaki monaniklai putiasakia me baggins dakine inhale por tu maldita kine, your welcome and see you Sunday at Dennys, I’ll be watching you eat while I’m fasting in the name of the baby coyotito. Your my biblical hero 🦸‍♂️

  8. More money will not assuage the guilt because the transient population does not want to change, they want you to tolerate them. They do not want to abide by laws, and you should not impose your rules on them. Once you understand that the problem exists because you are powerless to make the transients change you will understand why more money and training is not the solution. If it was the solution then you could invite the transients to your home to live. Of course, they would respect your household rules and you would be safe, right?! You cannot make a mentally ill person take medication that will stabilize them. You might know that the medication will help, but you need a court order. If you think a mentally ill person living in a delusional world is going abide by laws, both criminal and civil, you are mistaken. Their world makes it impossible to see themselves, they see your reaction, they see others reacting, they see a world that reacts unreasonably all the time. They are not the problem. That is what makes them dangerous and unpredictable. They can be involuntarily committed but this County does not have a treatment facility and a few years ago the cost was upwards of $5-7,000. per month per person. The County Public Guardian can initiate the proceedings for involuntary commitment and on the proper medication this does include transitioning them to housing and follow up. The “tension” you describe is self-preservation. We naturally avoid people who are acting in an unpredictable manner. We should not learn to tolerate criminal behavior. Our laws are in place to maintain a predictable level of behavior and keep a degree of safe interaction between us. It appears that you fail to recognize that because a person is transient, we should not be vigilant and protect our children. Spend some time around the Building Bridges “daycare” and actually watch the transients and their behavior. Spend the night, listen to them scream and fight. Take a week or two and watch them pile up their trash. Can you do that to your neighborhood? Would you allow your children to walk past the group that gathers at the corner across the street from the “daycare”? Would you think your children are safe to play on the streets or in the field across the street from the daycare? We all should not tolerate unlawful behavior just because a person chooses to live a transient lifestyle. We should call the police to intervene because for citizens to be safe in their neighborhoods there should be criminal consequences for those who refuse to respect their neighbors. It is easy to feel sorry for people, that only leads to being sorry you trusted that they would act like you. Even Jesus did not impose his miracles on those who did not ask for help, the help is out there and those who populate our streets have not asked for help, they have imposed themselves because we tolerate them. We have built a huge industry in Ukiah for the “Redwood” system, they do not pay much for the actual work but I would posit a guess that the administrators and the overhead eats up a lot of the financial resources. Looking at the amount of money invested in fences and fortification of the facility I would guess that keeping the “transients” who do not want help away has cost them as well. They offer no help to the neighborhoods, no fencing, no security, no community mitigation. Empathy can only go so far when a transient sets up camp and leaves their trash on the street. If I took my trash barrel and dumped it on the street outside your home you would lack empathy, you would want someone to give me a ticket or stop me from doing it again, at least that is my guess. I follow your concept, but respect for the community and a showing of effort is required from the transient persons. So far those who appear “stuck” on the streets are not in fact stuck, they refuse services. I doubt Jesus would force a transient to accept treatment. I can be sad that they do not have respect for the community and want to put forth no effort to accept the rules required to change, but I should not have to tolerate those who see this community as accepting their disrespect. If the issue is mental illness then it appears that having free treatment will mean nothing if they do not see the need for treatment.

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a journalist for the everyman. Journalism has become a craft practiced largely by the urban elite. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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