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We need to address homeless problem without sentimentality

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POSTED September 9, 2010 1:52 a.m.
It is easy to get teary eyed about the homeless especially given the 16 percent unemployment rate in Manteca. In the back of our minds we probably think that it could easily be us living on the streets

But let’s get one thing clear. A lot of the homeless are that way by choice. No, I can’t cite a survey but I can reference more than a few people who have friends and relatives that they’ve about given up on because they either chose to do drugs, drink heavily or simply not follow the rules.

It is important to keep in mind there is more than one type of homeless. There are the day-time homeless who can usually find some place such as a friend’s couch to stay for the night but have nowhere to go during the day. There are homeless families that sometimes end up the street for a night or two but usually can find safe haven with different friends and relatives. These are the people HOPE Family Shelters assist. Then there are the homeless individuals some of whom aren’t caught up in drugs, drinking, and vandalism.

Wednesday’s noon-time stabbing after a confrontation between an apparent homeless man who police said was asking where to buy drugs and a couple that made it clear they wanted nothing to do with him is a sign of things to come.

To recap problems that have been attributed to homeless people in the past month or so in Manteca: Belligerent language directed at people attending activities at Library Park, drinking illegally in the park, attempts to camp illegally in parks, sleeping on the library roof, leaving needles on the ground around the library and now the stabbing of someone who was using the Library Park with his family.

The police are doing all that they can legally do. Being homeless is not a crime. Nor do you want peace officers turned into a modern Gestapo.

At the same time, Manteca should not be at the mercy of those homeless who opt to operate outside the law. So what should Manteca do?

1. Do not under any circumstances encourage a single man’s shelter to open in Manteca. It will only draw more single men who are homeless based on experiences in other valley communities such as Turlock. At the same time, keep in mind the local homeless who are in that situation – single men – usually don’t want to follow rules, drink or do drugs.

2. Hire a code enforcement officer using redevelopment agency funds who will concentrate on targeting blight in areas of Manteca that are within the RDA such as Library Park. How do they do this? By aggressively keeping tabs on vehicles that are parked too long and going after anything that makes it conducive for the homeless to set up shop. This may mean more lighting in some places. It may mean going after property owners to keep empty property secure. It also may mean doing the foot work for police. For example, if they notice a vehicle that has been used as living quarters for an extended period of time and if has some mechanical issues such as tail lights that aren’t working, they should alert police. If police are aware of it they can pull the vehicle over and ask to see licensee and proof of insurance.

They could find a way to impound the vehicle for 30 days. That sounds cold and harsh, so be it. But if Manteca did it we’d quickly get a reputation of being zero tolerance for law breakers. Besides, the police already impound the vehicles of those who aren’t homeless that drive without licenses.

3. Discourage groups that want to help the homeless from doing so in parks. Instead allow such events to take place in the quad at the Civic Center. It’s doubtful that you’ll have a lot of people lingering there after it is over given the proximity of the police department.

4. Form a city-community committee to look at ways to help homeless who want to secure gainful employment of some type and perhaps even come up with a voucher system for temporary housing providing they test clean for booze and drugs. If the homeless refuse the helping hand, it is their choice and like every choice we all make it has consequences. In this case, they stay homeless and are subject to as tough a strategy dealing with the homeless that Manteca can constitutionally get away with.

Yes, the homeless have rights but they don’t have the right to break laws.

Everyone else in Manteca should not suffer from bad decisions that homeless individuals – specifically single adults – make.

There’s too much at stake to let the homeless get away with breaking the law simply because there is no room for them at the San Joaquin County Jail.

The only way Manteca can address the problem is for community leaders – political, business, religion, and non-profit – to all step up to the plate and try to cobble something together that gives homeless choices and also consequences for essentially opting to do things outside of the law.
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