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Homeless: A holistic approach

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POSTED August 8, 2014 12:40 a.m.

Smash an anthill, and ants will start scattering. Not only will they plague other areas of your yard where they weren’t before but nine times out of ten they will eventually return and rebuild the anthill.

That in a nutshell is the insanity of cracking down on the homeless in Manteca at Library Park and nearby without another viable option for them to gather. Police Chief Nick Obligacion gets it. HOPE Shelter Executive Director Dave Thompson gets it. And now it appears the Manteca City Council gets it.

They, however, don’t matter. What counts is whether we as a community get it.

Calling for a homeless summit to discuss possible temporary and permanent housing solutions for the adult single male homeless is the first step toward getting the problem under control.

The mere mention of a shelter for single male adults triggers the Greek chorus’s refrain, “build it and they will come.” But even those who for years have advocated a hardline against the homeless find themselves at an unexpected crossroads of seriously backing a shelter option. The mere fact that the powers that be in Manteca have the political courage to even start exploring a shelter option speaks volumes to how big of a problem the homeless have become.

There needs to be modest expectations: The goal should be to prevent the situation from getting worse and dialing it back a bit. That means concentrating community efforts in one place to help the homeless that want help. It also means using the full extent of the law to make Manteca an unwelcoming place for homeless troublemakers.

In the past few weeks, two different people have overheard conversations between the homeless. The chatter references how Manteca is “free range” compared to Bay Area cities when it comes to being homeless. That’s a clear reference to police not putting pressure on the homeless when it comes to quality of life issues governed by city laws. Manteca Police have already started to change that perception. At the same time, the police chief has crafted a plan to impose more city rules that officers can use to increase that pressure even more.

Of course, the homeless are simply scattering about town.

That is where a shelter or a homeless drop-in place comes into play. The suggestion of LOVE INC’s Steve Parsons about a daytime drop-in center for homeless to do everything from shower to obtain services such as job counseling to being able to partake in donated food might actually be more effective than a shelter.

There are homeless out there sleeping in the streets, in bushes, in dumpsters, in vacant homes and garages, in cars, and on rooftops such as at the library and atop the Manteca Marketplace where police have cleared them from in recent months.

But they are not the entire problem. Mixed in with them are a sizable number of folks with no gainful employment that reside in boarding house style rooms downtown or bunk temporarily with relatives or acquaintances but spend their days on the streets. Not all of these folks are angels. And one of their favorite places to gather is Library Park.

A holistic approach is needed and not one that merely zeroes in on the hardcore homeless.

We also need to come to grips that spending tax money intentionally on the homeless may be cheaper than not doing so.

Godzilla – the preferred name of one Scott Swafford who apparently is bucking for a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for most arrests – has now surpassed 60 bookings in two years for being drunk in public. Whether it is a cry for help as some have suggested – or not, the fact is 60 times in two years he has tied up public resources. Assume each arrest involves four hours of time between police officers, jailers, and others, Godzilla may be costing taxpayers close to $7,000 a year in manpower. Toss in emergency room visits on the occasions he needs to have medical attention before being booked. Godzilla could be costing taxpayers at least $1,000 a week.

There’s got to be a more cost effective way to deal with Godzilla’s ilk.

We also need to make the job of Manteca police officers easier so less time is spent on homeless crime especially once things start to get under control.

Years ago when Willie Weatherford was police chief he made an observation about cruising in downtown Manteca when asked if he supported it or was against it.

The gist of his response went like this: It is much easier for officers to keep tabs on the teens and young adults when they are gathered in one place on a Friday and Saturday night than if they were flung to the far reaches of Manteca at parties or gathering in cliques. The same is true of the homeless.

What killed cruising in Manteca – the last legal place it could be done in the Northern San Joaquin Valley – was a large influx of cruisers from other towns including troublemakers,

And what did the troublemakers do? The urinated and defecated on sidewalks and lawns (even though the city placed portable toilets at Yosemite and Main) and lawns, littered the streets, disturbed the peace of law-abiding citizens, and even got into a few faces of people trying to mind their own business. Sound familiar?

Cruising came to an end after a rowdy crowd left an Oakwood Lake concert one Sunday and clogged Manteca’s streets to cruise that afternoon, and discharged firearms.

The problem posed by the homeless will never go away. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be reduced and kept in check.

And it will take time to resolve.

But things can’t get better until we all admit that other alternatives – including a shelter – need to be explored and action taken.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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