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WHACK-A-MOLE

Manteca makes progress, but problems persist

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WHACK-A-MOLE

Those who bedded down for the night in the Manteca Library courtyard tear down their encampment before moving. The city is preparing to secure the area with fencing.

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin/


POSTED June 1, 2017 1:22 a.m.

“Hold on one second – I’m getting another call. I’ll be right back.”
Mike Kelly reaches into the cargo pocket of his black tactical pants, fishes out his personal cell phone, and presses the phone up to his ear – keeping the other one in place as he introduces himself by name to the caller.
“This is Mike Kelly.”
As the Manteca Police Department’s Community Resource Officer, Kelly – who is nearing the one-year anniversary the creation of his new position – is a man that is always in-demand. His phones – his personal cell phone and one provided by the city for his job facilitating resources for the homeless in the community and those on the verge of being homeless – are constantly ringing. It’s not uncommon for him to realize, hours later, that he hasn’t had the chance to take a break let alone catch his breath.
But for all of the stress that comes along with what can seem like, at times, a giant game of Whack-a-Mole, comes a day like Wednesday when Kelly – the unsung hero in the intricate dance of respecting the rights of the homeless in the community and the image problem that it represents to the homeowners and families who have to live nearby – gets the chance to actually make a difference in the lives of the people he comes across.
It started, like it normally does, with a trip to the Manteca Public Library where he makes sure that those who have slept outside in the courtyard on the Center Street side of the building have packed up and moved on. This particular day that hasn’t happened – some are still asleep in a tent while others are moving what looks like the contents of a full apartment into the park across the street where they’re allowed to be during the day.
And while this convenient sleeping location – the building forms a wind break and protects those who bed down here by giving them cover and reducing the element of surprise – has become a favorite of those who call the streets of Manteca home, it’ll be locked up in couple of weeks once crews finish installing wrought-iron gates across the access point to keep people out.

Homeless have
been damaging
library building
It’s not so much that the homeless aren’t welcome, but they haven’t exactly been good stewards of the kindness of the city when it comes to affording them places like this – breaking out lightbulbs to make it more conducive to sleeping, ripping out wires to make it possible to charge cell phones, and damaging the library building itself by cutting into the wood sills around the aging windows out of apparent boredom more than anything else – turning what was once a convenient access for those wishing to access the McFall Room into an eyesore.
And then there’s the trash.
A small Ziploc bag, typically used to hold drugs, remains after everybody packs up and moves on. Remnants of ongoing overnight stays are stretched across the courtyard – designed as a memorial to those who gave their lives for their country.
Kelly, who previously served as the Manteca Police Department’s booking officer before tackling the new council-created role last July, remains both friendly and affable, but also stern. He toes the line between somebody who is there to enforce existing laws and municipal codes while simultaneously being the hand-up that nearly 120 people have reached out and grabbed when they felt like their life wasn’t moving in the positive direction they had hoped.
Here’s what happens when he gets the chance to show those in the community that the effort that has gone into pooling resources and creating an intricate network of assistance has paid off:

Help is only a
phone call away
Sometimes it’s churches that step up and pay for a hotel for somebody who is down on their luck or on the street, and sometimes its nonprofits or business leaders that lend a hand when it’s necessary.
For Curt – whom Kelly placed in a Stockton program Wednesday morning where he’ll be able to stay for the next month as he prepares for his new job at Target in Manteca – it was a citizen that picked up the tab.
Following up on a lead from somebody who called his cell phone, Kelly encountered a man who through sheer persistence was able to land a job at Target in Manteca. And while Curt was facing many of the same challenges that every homeless person must – chiefly where he was going to lay his head when the goodwill of the citizens who were paying for his room for two nights ran out – you wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a lineup as somebody who has nowhere else to go but the street.
The same could be said for the family that Kelly may have gotten placed at the Hope Family Shelter late Wednesday morning. The man who had contacted him daily ever since getting his contact information has been using money from an accident settlement – he was run over by a big rig on Airport Way a while back and is still going through the legal steps of the settlement – to pay for a room at Motel 6 near Highway 99.
His wife is gainfully employed. His daughter, who lives with him in the motel room, just graduated from Manteca High School. And while he has the money saved up for an apartment or a house to rent – including the first and last month’s rent as well as the deposits necessary – he is running into roadblock after roadblock because of an eviction from a slumlord.
But true to his word, Kelly worked with the man – calling as many people as possible and eventually landing him a potential place where he had already placed a man earlier that morning. Everything was set in stone. When he stepped outside to a make a phone call he got flagged down by another woman who was in need of assistance.
Brittanee, who had a 10-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter with her, was on her last day at the motel and needed to find a way to pick up a two-day extension to cover the gap until she was able to move in with a friend in Stockton.
Kelly called Hope Ministries, and within 30 minutes Michelle Whitaker was there with a credit card to help the woman and her children and offer an appointment for her to come and stay in the Raymus House. He then brought Whitaker back to the family he was first there to visit. Come Monday morning they could be moving in for a two-month stint which would allow them to save even more money and find a place in the community they could hopefully call their own.
“Sometimes there are people that just need a little bit of help and they just want somebody who is going to talk to them like they’re a person,” Kelly said. “It isn’t always like that, and situations like these aren’t dealing with the ‘homeless’ that a lot of people think of when they say that word.
“But prevention is just an important in a job like this, and we want to keep people from being on the streets as well.”
A success story
for the ages
The Manteca City Council may have had their hand forced by a lawsuit brought by the homeless in response to a pair of city ordinances, but Kelly – who had gotten the chance to know many of the people who were on the street through his time as a booking officer – has made the most of the new position and the impossible task of offering help to people who often times don’t want it.
Regardless of where he goes in the community, people know him and what it is that he does for work.
“Hey Kelly,” is a common refrain in Downtown Manteca, and a sign that his efforts to build a rapport with the people on the streets is working – the fruits of hours and hours of talking, networking and working to get those who need the help placed in programs and facilities that will both get them off the street and give them the tools to not return.
While not everybody takes advantage of that opportunity – not all of the nearly 120 people he has gotten placed in the last 11 months have lasted on the straight and narrow path – he has some success stories that bring a smile to his face when he talks about them.
Take, for example, two of the “chronic” homeless that he was all but certain were headed to an early grave before they took the lifeline to enter a recovery program based here in Manteca, and are now more than a month without the drugs and alcohol that fueled their life for so many years.
When Kelly walks in and sees the smiles on the faces of the two men he has stopped by to visit, he can’t help but contain his own excitement – knowing that the work that he’s doing has the potential to save lives while at the same time preserve the sense of a family community that some people feel the homeless have slowly stripped away in recent years.
“Sometimes you have to be the bad guy and enforce the rules, but other times you get to be the counselor and you see things like this where people actually make changes,” Kelly said. “I never thought I would have seen these guys doing this when I started, but it shows me that the program and the effort is working.
“Other cities are seeing it as well. They’re coming to us and wanting to copy what we have and I think that’s great because that means people like this that need the help elsewhere will be getting it. We really do care about the people we come across – it’s why I do this job.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email jcampbell@mantecabulletin.com or call 209.249.3544.

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