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Residents say the time has come to retake Manteca

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POSTED August 16, 2017 1:02 a.m.

They defecate on doorsteps.
They urinate against commercial buildings.
They leave drug needles in parks.
They leave garbage on property that business owners are then cited by police if it isn’t cleaned up.
They expose themselves to young children and others passing by as they take care of business.
They pirate Amazon shipments and other parcels from porches.
They enter yards to steal recyclables from blue carts.
They prowl neighborhoods on bicycles in the wee hours of the morning looking for anything they can convert to cash.
They aren’t the homeless per se. They are vagrants.
Frustrated Manteca citizens made that clear at Tuesday’s Manteca City Council meeting that the issue isn’t the homeless as much as it is vagrants that are breaking the law.
And while some said they wanted the vagrants run out of town, most expressed the sentiment that if the city working with the community doesn’t get a handle on the situation that law-abiding residents will end up being run out of Manteca.
The City Council agreed.
“They’re not homeless, they’re criminals,” declared Councilman Mike Morowit.
That is after he relayed how that morning his landlord where his business is located in Lincoln Center told him things were getting out of control. He told Morowit that cleaning up garbage is one thing, but having to pick up human excrement from a homeless individual going wherever they could was over the line. Morowit noted that Manteca Police was able to dispatch Community Resource Officer Mike Kelly who talked to the individual and got him to move on.

The goal is to make ‘them feel uncomfortable’
The issue of addressing v vagrancy and homeless issues is being placed on the Tuesday, Sept. 5, City Council agenda. By then, the city hopes to have come up with some initial ways to “tweak” existing ordinances for legal ways to address some issues. But the council — as well as a number of the frustrated speakers — made it clear that any effort to improve things would require the city and community working together beyond the effort now underway with agencies and non-profits that provide homeless services.
“Working within the confines of the law, (we need to) make things uncomfortable,” Mayor Steve DeBrum said of the homeless and vagrants — often drug users who hang out during the day with the homeless at various locations.
DeBrum added it is a problem a lot of cities are dealing with and not just Manteca.
The mayor also noted decisions in Sacramento to reduce prison population by releasing non-violent criminals convicted of low-level property crimes and drug offense has meant many of them end up living on the streets of California’ cities that includes Manteca
Near the end of the meeting City Manager Tim Ogden noted staff will endeavor in the next two weeks to “strategize the best ways” to address the issues while recognizing there are legal limits to what the city can do.
“Government has a role,” Ogden said. “But we’re not the only solution.”
Manteca — like other cities — is trying to walk a legal tight rope made more precarious after the city was sued in federal court for civil rights violations by three homeless individuals they stopped from repeatedly blocking the sidewalk by the driveway to the McDonald’s restaurant on East Yosemite Avenue. Courts have consistently ruled being homeless isn’t a crime per se and that cities have to make certain accommodations such as not banning the ability of people to lie down on sidewalks 24/7 basically to allow the homeless to sleep.
The city confirmed a second community resource officer will be joining Kelly to address homeless related issues by Oct. 1. The position was approved last July but after an exhaustive search and background check to find the person with the right demure, the person quit after a week.
In the 13 months that Kelly has been on the job, 140 individuals were persuaded to get off the street, with at least 100 not returning who are either in substance abuse treatment programs, moved in with relatives Kelly has often located several states away, or — as a few have — secured a job and are now supporting themselves.
And while you will find people who have noticed a drop in panhandling, homeless encampments, and other related issues, those in attendance Tuesday  see things a lot differently.

‘The time has come
to retake our city’
“The majority are not down on their luck,” noted Diane Binford who added “they camp in every nook and cranny and out in the open.”
She touched on the open use of drugs, urinating in public and generally trashing up the community.
“The time has come to retake our city,” Binford added.
Nicol Grasso related how vagrants and the homeless have become “very comfortable” while noting vehicles parked at their home have been repeatedly burglarized. Grasso noted she’s been told at some point during certain nights there are only four officers on Manteca’s streets prompted her to tell the council the city needs to hire more police.
Ryan Harris of the Downtown Business Alliance — a group of merchants and property owners that have started working to pump new life into downtown  — told the council the organization is ready to work with the city on the issue.
Jason Blevins who left Manteca in 1989 for a 19-year career in the military said he returned to Manteca to raise his family.
His idea of the Family City isn’t one where his 7-year-old daughter is fearful of going to their neighborhood park because of vagrants and others. Instead he has to drive his daughter across town to play at Woodward Park.
Connie Reed related how she worries every morning and evening when her husband has to unlock and then lock the trash dumpster at their business in case he runs into someone who may do him harm.
Merchants are forced to lock their dumpsters or else face fines from the city if trash is strewn about by those going through them looking for recyclables and other items. At the same time, others illegally dump their trash in the bins. Not only does that take up space they need, but it overflows the bins forcing them to clean it up plus pay extra to get rid of other people’s  garbage.
There have been at least two incidents in recent years where city solid waste truck operators have dumped homeless individuals into the back of their trucks after they had fallen asleep in dumpsters.
Councilwoman Debby Moorhead referenced two run ins that she has had with the homeless that happened in recent years. Once was when she went to Library Park and before she as able to get out of her car she was approached by four individuals that were panhandling for money. The other when she was a Manteca Chamber of Commerce ambassador volunteering to clean up a section of the Tidewater Bike Way when the glove she was wearing was pierced by a hypodermic needle.
Councilman Gary Singh noted the city has been addressing the issues “but obviously we’re not doing enough.”
“I think we are losing the battle,” he said.
Councilman Richard Silverman added that the city needed to do more while working with the community while keeping in mind “the constraints of the system and the constitution.”
One suggestion he made was revisiting the idea of posting no panhandling signs where it is illegal to do so in Manteca at freeway off ramps and controlled intersections as court rulings have allowed.
“Families can no longer enjoy the city because of vagrants,” Patrick Graves Gruenbacher told the council.
He offered the council four courses of action that he thought would work including forming citizens patrols comprised of veterans.

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