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.
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:Mendocino_Housing