Turning some of the teen vagrants into security monitors or giving them work experience.Store owners said they are tired of vagrants drinking in public and sitting on the benches in front of their stores all day. One store owner even suggested the teens could help provide security in Downtown.
“You can help so the bad kids stop giving you a bad name,” said June Atwood Aaker, co-owner of Abrahamson Printing.
Besides mentorship, shopkeepers said they would consider a variety of precautionary measures intended to reduce vandalism and loitering, such as putting up surveillance cameras and additional lighting, and having more security patrols.
“We need to make the environment not conducive to them hanging out,” said Ronald Houck, co-owner of Studio 20 Art Gallery, about vagrants and troublesome teens.
While personally opposed to the proposal, Public Works director Wally Sandelin said the City Council will be asked to consider moving benches from Elm Street to deter vagrants and teens from congregating in Downtown and making visitors feel uncomfortable.
The benches match the decor and theme of School Street and he said that Downtown areas need a place for people to sit and relax, he said. Sandelin said the city doesn’t have much money to work with and that the Downtown Lodi Business Partnership could be instrumental in the solution.
Sam Rhemke, co-owner of Lodi Beer Company and DLBP board member, said she believes the DLBP would be in favor of moving three or four of the seven benches off Elm Street and relocating them to other places within Downtown.
A manager of a party supply store on Elm Street said the money that would be spent relocating the benches and installing security precautions could be better spent on community outreach for the teens.
“Why can’t we take the same money and put it into the rec center?” said Dori Mousaw, manager at The Party Guys. “The issue is being missed; these kids need a place to go.”
Mousaw said she knows some of the teens on a first-name basis and will solicit their help with moving items into her store occasionally. She was one of several merchants who offered mentorship to the teens. Houck offered to give free art classes to teens who were interested, and Aaker said she would help teens who were interested in learning about the printing business.
While merchants agreed there are liability issues that would need to be addressed if they were going to provide mentorship, they generally agreed that getting involved with the teens would be beneficial for all parties.
“Some of you may not realize you have the talent or ability,” Houck said to the youths.
The meeting lasted more than two hours and featured merchants discussing difficulties they were having with vandalism and vagrants, police informing them what could be done and local teens telling their side of the story.
Anthony Hancock was one of the youths who addressed the crowd. He said the teens hang out Downtown because they feel safer there than in other parts of the city. He said he’s been shot at on the Eastside of Lodi and most of his friends have nowhere else to go.
Hancock said part of the problem comes from the state of the economy and teens having trouble finding work.
“We’re asking the city to help us,” he said. “We want to possibly rent a place or a store where we can get job experience.”
The store could sell merchandise such as Faygo, a soda popular in Michigan that is only available in specialty stores in California, he said outside the meeting. It’s endorsed by the music group Insane Clown Posse, who many of the youths at Monday’s meeting listen to.
Sgt. Fernando Martinez of the Lodi Police Department said one of the biggest deterrents in preventing vandalism from teens could be identifying those who want to change their ways and reaching out to them personally.
Bicycle Officer K.C. Schlader echoed Martinez.
“You’ve got to get to know them,” he said. “You have to build a rapport with the kids. Some of them want to do odd jobs.”