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Manteca needs a park ranger & homeless park

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POSTED July 16, 2014 12:55 a.m.

Enough is enough.

City leaders have given lip service to Manteca’s homeless problem for 20 years.

You know the drill. The homeless have rights. Establishing an area for them to gather and obtain necessary services will only encourage more homeless to come to Manteca. The city is doing all it can.

Yes, the homeless do have rights. And so does everyone else in Manteca.

As for making Manteca more inviting for the homeless, that is wrong on so many levels. First, many of the homeless are from Manteca. Second, not establishing a gathering place with homeless services hasn’t exactly reduced the proliferation of homeless in Manteca.

The city is not doing all it can. Yes, police do respond when they aren’t tied up on priority calls and get the homeless to move from places where they may be illegally camping or sleeping. And, yes, city crews do clean up their droppings — for want of a better word — as well as hypodermic needles and other garbage.

There are two things the city can do.

First, hire a police officer assigned exclusively to parks. Some cities refer to such a position as a park ranger. They’d have full police powers. Since they’d work four, 10 hour shifts, assign them to work on a Thursday through Sunday schedule when parks have their heaviest use. Since parks are supposed to close at 8 p.m., a 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. shift seems reasonable. While hired to patrol all parks, their main concentration would be Library Park and its cousin for trouble — Southside Park. As an added bonus they can patrol around Woodward Park during major tournaments and dole out tickets for parking in front of driveways, on corners, and in front of fire hydrants.

No harassment of homeless is needed. If a park ranger sees illegal drug use, arrest them. If they see illegal drinking in the park, cite them and run them off. They see someone pestering kids for their free summer lunch, arrest them for annoying a child. You get the picture.

Paying for the officer wouldn’t be that difficult. Either the city can tap into the public safety endowment fund for a year or do like they did to hire the gang officers or else they can take money they’d save from not having a special election to start the ball rolling. If Steve DeBrum isn’t elected mayor, the election wouldn’t be needed. If he is elected mayor, the council should do what they did last time someone got elected mayor in the middle of a four-year council term and appoint his replacement on the council. Not too many people would complain if the city actually started taking steps toward solving the homeless problem in parks instead of paying for a special election.

As the economy rebounds and property and sales tax receipts increase, the funding for the park ranger can be covered.

 At the same time the city needs to work toward establishing a “homeless park” complete with restrooms, real showers, shade/rain structure, plus picnic benches and water fountain. There should also be a community service information board and a place where agencies can meet with the homeless to discuss ways they can get help and/or jobs.

And as a nod to reality there should be a place to charge their cellphones and perhaps even a BBQ or modified outdoor kitchen for various groups that serve meals occasionally to the homeless.

You could even make lockers available with the park ranger assigning them and providing keys. That way the issue of homeless ferrying junk all around town would diminish.

The homeless park could be closed at 8 p.m. or – if the city is willing – it could be allowed to be used after hours for sleeping.

The homeless park could be fenced in and located on Wetmore Street as part of the city corporation yard complex near the railroad tracks. It could be monitored from dispatch much like the video cameras that watch over the skate park.

It stops short of being a homeless shelter. And unlike homeless shelters for single adults they aren’t turned out on the streets during the day.

That would address worries that Manteca would be too accommodating for the homeless.

Paying for the homeless park could either be through bonus bucks paid for sewer allocation certainty for new homes or park fees assessed on growth.

Doing nothing solves nothing.

It takes political courage to try and put in place a solution that tries to address the needs of the homeless and the concerns of those who believe the homeless are overrunning city parks.

Manteca needs to address the homeless issue in a manner that can produce long-term improvements.

Nothing the city has done to date has made more than a fleeting improvement.

It’s time to stop hoping the homeless issue goes away and to start working on a solution that improves the quality of life for all Manteca residents.

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