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The homeless problem we don’t want to address

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POSTED February 26, 2010 2:29 a.m.
“You can’t expect people to turn their lives around if you don’t provide them with the opportunity to do so.” – Dave Thompson, executive director of the HOPE Family Shelters

Dave Thompson is a retired Manteca Police officer who has spent the last nine years overseeing HOPE Family Shelters. The organization – that has a zero tolerance for drugs – has a 60 percent-plus success rate of helping homeless families – and single moms with kids – to get back on track to support themselves and into their own living units.

The two-month stay at the two primary shelters includes counseling on choices, money management, and – when needed – helping them with job searches. The face of the homeless, as Thompson can tell you, often includes working people with families. For whatever reason they’ve lost their shelter and can’t afford a security deposit although they can swing the rent payment.  Two months of rent free living with help on money management and choices gets them on their way.

A 60 percent-plus success rate, by the way, is outstanding when compared to other such programs.

Which brings up Manteca’s “other” chronic homeless problem – single men and single women.

That’s the face of Manteca’s homeless that most of us see. It is also the face that we all have deep opinions – or prejudices if you will – about.

While HOPE Family Shelters has its hands full weathering the current economic storm with the double whammy of increased need from homeless families and cutbacks in funding and donations, Thompson sees  a great need that isn’t being addressed when it comes to homeless single men as well as single women.

Thompson knows all too well the stories of many of those who are single and homeless. Most of us see them as being anti-social, alcohol or drug abusers, lazy, panhandlers, and deviants who urinate in public among other things. All in all not many have a warm and fuzzy feeling toward them including myself.

The community’s extent of helping such individuals goes about as far as what I’ll do occasionally which is giving someone panhandling money.

It is such perceptions – oftentimes well deserved – that sparked the furious backlash when HOPE Ministries initially wanted to establish their first shelter in the 100 block of North Lincoln. The shelter was for homeless families but neighbors reacted based on what they had seen homeless men do.

The HOPE Family Shelter at Sequoia and Yosemite has been helping homeless families for 18 years. A check of crime logs will show below average problems at that address. Homeless families – much as they do in the street – blend seamlessly into the community.

Homeless single men though are a different issue.

That’s why HOPE Ministries dropped sheltering homeless single men as part of the Raymus House on Union Road. Neighborhood opposition was strident until HOPE Ministries promised never to house homeless single men at the site.
To be honest, I don’t want a homeless men’s shelter in my neighborhood either.

That, however, doesn’t ignore the fact Manteca needs a homeless shelter for men.

Yes, if it is simply a “drop-in” shelter critics – including myself – are probably right that it will attract single homeless men for miles.
But what if it was a homeless shelter operated in the same fashion as the other HOPE Ministries shelters?

The conditions could be the same –a two-month limit, zero drug and alcohol tolerance, and counseling including help searching for employment.

It also should be noted that the face of homeless men aren’t just the unshaven wearing grungy clothes that you see with sleeping bags bundled with their belongings passing time on a bench in downtown Manteca. There are also a number of younger adults.

Once they’ve gotten on the streets, it is hard to get off of them. How, for example, do you stand a chance at a job interview when you can’t even make yourself presentable?

A shelter run right could address some of those issues.

Such a shelter is allowed under state law in various commercial areas as well as industrial zones. By allowed, state stature have made it clear that cities can’t simply prohibit homeless shelters.

It wouldn’t be about a handout. Instead it would be about extending a helping hand.

Yes, the success rate probably won’t be as high as 60 percent. And, yes, many may not want to come in off the streets due to the rules or they may lack the moxie to address personal demons that would allow them to get into such a homeless shelter for two months.

However, if there are people out there willing to give single homeless men and women a chance to turn their lives around, the city should step up to the plate and work with them to secure a site that is unobtrusive.

By being proactive, the community should be able to reduce homeless issues that periodically plague the central district and parks using a helping hand and not a hand out approach.
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