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Manteca conducts homeless count

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Manteca conducts homeless count

Tom Becker keeps an eye on the bike he uses to travel Manteca to collect recyclables.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED January 25, 2013 1:12 a.m.

Steve Parsons knows all about Manteca’s homeless community.

For the last five years he has made regular trips out to Library Park to see exactly what it is that those who are down-and-out need to get back on their feet and serve as an under-the-radar advocate for the marginalized in the community. 

He knows the families living in their cars. He knows the people with mental health issues. He knows the people with the “monkey on their back” that don’t want the assistance that might be available to them.

So Thursday’s homeless count – a bi-annual event organized by San Joaquin County to gauge how many sheltered and un-sheltered homeless people are out there – was nothing new for the Executive Director of the Manteca Love, INC affiliate.

“When I first came out here I wasn’t aware of the scope of the homeless challenge here in the community,” Parsons said. “There are the 20 or so that the police say are out here, but then there are the people that are living in their cars and those that are living on their own not by choice.

“You have the people that truly are out there causing trouble and want to be out here either because of a monkey on their back or because of a mental illness or something like that, but those people don’t represent everyone.”

Thursday’s event could have very easily been just another bureaucratic exercise where county representatives came out, counted those that were present, and went about their business – submitting the numbers to the federal government to secure funding for homeless outreach programs.

But in the eyes of homeless outreach worker Dennis Buettner, not offering or providing the necessary services that at least show those living on the street that there are places to turn would make any amount of money received worthless.

“I think that having all of these different groups here shows that the count isn’t just another number,” Buettner said. “We want to be able to pair them up with services that they can use – Haven of Peace and The Salvation Army if they have substance abuse problems and San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services if they have some mental health issues going on.

“Whatever we can do to help them is what we’re going to do, whether its general assistance like food stamps or medical services or mental health assistance.”

While homelessness is an issue in every city in San Joaquin County – those involved in the count spent Wednesday in Lodi and Thursday morning in Tracy and will spend today in Stockton – Buettner believes that Manteca’s housing situation makes things even more difficult for those who find themselves on the street.

“I don’t think that it’s overlooked in the community, but a lot of the housing that was available has been lost and there’s only one place that they can turn and it’s almost always full. That doesn’t leave people with very many options.”

And if anybody knows about the benefits of providing low-cost housing to those in need its Bill Mendelson.

As the executive director of the Central Valley Low Income Housing Corporation, Mendelson knows firsthand that the money received as a result of the count ultimately goes to benefit the primary providers of services to those in the homeless community – non-profits, shelters and food pantries that are tapped by the county and other agencies to handle the provide the direct assistance.

By incorporating those organizations in efforts like the one underway to get a realistic number of the sheltered and unsheltered homeless in San Joaquin County, Mendelson says that it strengthens the middle man and thus improves the delivery of services.

“It works on a different level and it’s absolutely critical,” he said. “These groups can provide services in a much different way than the government can. That’s what makes the difference.”

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