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Manteca ignores homeless problem at its own peril

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POSTED August 27, 2010 2:19 a.m.
It was a discovery that rattled the tenant and even surprised Manteca Police.

A homeless man had taken up residence in the crawl space of a house converted into a business on Yosemite Avenue.

The tenants had heard noises prior to the discovery but simply dismissed them thinking they were cats.

They were wrong. One day when an employee was arriving at work they noticed a man trying to get into the back door. They called police.

Manteca Police were there in an instant. One officer noticed a nearby puddle that turned out to be where someone had just urinated. A closer inspection of the property showed a box partially covering access to the crawl space was ajar. The officers looked inside and found evidence that someone had been sleeping there. Along with blankets and other stuff they found pornography and women’s underwear.

Unfortunately it is not an isolated incident.

Bed rolls have been discovered on the roof of the Manteca Library while the nearby grounds have been littered with everything from needles to feces. It is nothing new for the library. In the winter in past years it hasn’t been unusual to find homeless men sleeping by roof heating vents in a bid to keep warm.

And during a big crackdown when the homeless situation got out of hand about eight years ago the same problem occurred with needles.

The homeless have also been known to commandeer the bathrooms put in place for the public’s use at Library Park for an hour at a time not just to use the facility but also to bathe and wash their clothes.

They have been known to curse loudly and smoke near the tot playground lot and the interactive water feature where parents take their children to play. There is no law against loud cursing. As for smoking, as long as they are 25 feet away from the playground, California law says you can’t touch them.

Police – just as they have done for years – respond when they get a complaint and try to settle things down. But police can only do what they can legally do. If the homeless - or even those who are technically homeless and are sleeping in a different friend’s house every night or in their cars and hang out at Library Park during the day – want to be at the park they can be there as long as they don’t break rules that we are all governed by.

Manteca does a fairly herculean job of addressing the issue of homeless families and homeless single moms with kids through the HOPE Ministries. It has taken an arm’s length approach though, to homeless and even the issue of “daytime homeless” who have a place to crash whether it is in their car or on someone’s couch.

The Library Park situation is compounded by the fact it has been developed as a true children’s park with interactive water fountain, tot playground and gazebo stage that is populated primarily by youth-orientated activities.

Making matters are good meaning people and organizations that have used Library Park as a distribution point for everything from free food to free clothing. It makes sense as it is where the homeless congregate.

Perhaps creating a homeless park for daytime use somewhere where such disruptions can take place and bathrooms are available would make sense.

Building a men’s homeless shelter is not an answer as if you build it they will come in even greater numbers to Manteca.

One thing is for sure. Nothing will be done to address the problem unless the community as a whole steps up and tries to find a solution.

Council member Debby Moorhead believes the first step might be to call a community summit on the homeless problem to explore options and to identify issues.

Those at the table could include groups wanting to help, people in neighborhoods and business districts impacted by the homeless, various government resources, and the homeless themselves.

One thing is for sure. By playing the old “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” routine, the situation will not improve and the odds are it will only get worse.
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