Homelessness is the talk-du-jour in Merced, but panhandlers, rescue missions and shelters are something all to common in modern America. Despite its ubiquity, the ugly facts of life on the street have been far enough removed from most people's lives that it has been mostly ignored.
In Merced, at least, that is no longer true. In recent years, and since the economic downturn, the homeless population here has grown. A tent city has sprung up on the outskirts of town and the needy line up for food or a bed at downtown shelters. In other words, the homeless problem is growing and it is local governments and charities that have been left holding the bag. The City of Merced is not alone when it comes to facing such a problem. Like others, Merced's government must maneuver a tricky moral road where the right thing to do is not always black and white. What to do with the illegal tent city on the edge of town, for example, has sparked heated debate in recent weeks. To wrap our minds around the reality of homelessness and what the can or should do about the problem, Off the 99 brought three guests to our show this week to discus the issue: Rene Davenport, an advocate for the homeless, Merced Mayor Bill Spriggs and Joe Salazar, a sometimes-homeless man in Merced.