On the 19th of December, Mona’s fifth period French class was interrupted by the sounds of voices through the window. A man had been found living in 2 cars behind the classroom and was being escorted by Mr. Granzotto and the Walnut Creek Police Department off campus. This is the second time this man has been found living on Las Lomas and as such, Mr. Granzotto performed a citizen’s arrest on him.
The first step schools take when informed of a man living on campus is contact the local authorities. “Police are contacted because it’s not something that as a school administrator I have purview over… we call the police and they… help us through it,” said Mr. Granzotto, the Las Lomas Associate Principal.
Classrooms located near the French room were told to keep their curtains closed while the administrative office escorted the man off Las Lomas. The first time, the man was let off with a warning as he had been extremely dehydrated. “When we discovered him… he had been very ill… We called him an ambulance because it was what he needed…,” said Mr. Granzotto. The man was then rushed to the hospital where he received medical treatment. “The first time I felt a great deal of sympathy for the man,” said Granzotto. “I gave him my contact information because he had a lot of his stuff here and I said to him… ‘you’re welcome to come get your stuff at any point, but you have to call me first so that I can escort you up there’… so that there can be someone supervising…” said Mr. Granzotto.
The second time the incident occurred, the administration wasn’t as sympathetic. “..I have to say when I did the citizens arrest I was mostly frustrated at him..we told [him], ‘you could not be here, there’s kids around, it’s broad daylight, it’s not appropriate and you need to learn your lesson.’” The man had returned to his belongings and resumed living there. “I have a feeling he thought he could circumvent me, that he didn’t really need to contact me, that he could come on campus any day. He had clearly been back without me when we found him the other [second] time,” said Granzotto. New safety measures have been put in place to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. “We’ve added a sort of patrol for the site supervisors that they go there and check periodically… The only reason it happened in the first place is because there were cars available to them that were unlocked: …that were donated to the school by kind people for the automotive program,” said Granzotto. The cars that the homeless have been living in were towed, and there have been no new homeless living at school. “A school like ours offers a lot of sanctuary for them in terms…there’s cover, there’s outdoor outlets, and over the summer, there’s no one here,” said Granzotto.
What are the main causes of homelessness? “I would say most of them have had what we would consider… normal lives up until recently and they’ve either gone through, for women especially, [a job loss], or [are] going through a divorce… where their life just started to downwards spiral. Some form of addiction is often a problem, [as is] mental illness,” said Mrs. Lyn Ashlock, a volunteer for the Trinity Center. When asked about the man’s mental health, Mr. Granzotto said, “I would say that that man was suffering from some form of mental problems I would guess .. probably addiction, as well…. He was not well.”
This isn’t the first time that Las Lomas has experienced people using the school as a shelter, and in the age of technology, shelter is not the only thing homeless people are looking for. “…We’re an open campus, so they [homeless people] can come on campus at any point. I know that they use some of our outdoor outlets to charge phones…so it has been… an issue before,” said Granzotto. In the past three to four years, Granzotto has escorted four to five people off school, a good amount by his standards. Why aren’t those people seeking help? “…I would say the hardest situations are people with mental illness and addictions that… just have not decided to get the help they need,” said Ashlock.
Certain shelters have different restrictions which their occupants must abide by, such as the Trinity Center, where alcohol and drugs are prohibited. When asked why some homeless people might not use a shelter, Ashlock replied “…if they’re not willing to abide by the rules of the shelter, then some will just choose to stay out on the street.”
Some shelters do not have overnight programs, like the local Trinity Center. However, during the winter, most shelters make provisions for the people who frequent their location. During the first encounter with the man, Mr. Granzotto was asked if the school wanted to press charges against him, to which he replied no. “We don’t believe in punishing someone for trying to find a place to live.” The name of the man and his current location are still unknown.