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THE PANHANDLING MESS

Donated items often end up trashing Manteca

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THE PANHANDLING MESS

A panhandler on a Manteca street.

HIME ROMERO/ The Bulletin/


POSTED August 29, 2017 1:24 a.m.

The complaints have been coming in droves – whether it’s from people who have been aggressively targeted by panhandlers at intersections or from property owners who are tired of the trash that is left behind after people temporarily set-up on their property.
And the Manteca Police Department wants to know when people are violating the municipal code when it pertains to panhandling – just one of a handful of issues that police have been trying to handle as part of the larger issue of homelessness and vagrants.
According to a Facebook release posted Monday morning on the City of Manteca’s page, the issues stemming from panhandlers in the community have started to mount not just at the locations where the panhandling takes place, but throughout the community where the residual effects are left behind.
The release didn’t pull any punches about what is being discovered by police officers, volunteers, city crews and residents on an almost daily basis.
“Almost daily, the donated items left in our city parks and streets by generous citizens are often wasted and soon turn into rubbish. This results in unsightly litter which then has to be cleaned up on a regular basis,” the release stated. “Some of those who panhandle are reported to be aggressive in their efforts to solicit money from others and often leave litter behind, and their presence at certain locations in town also creates traffic safety issues.”
But that doesn’t mean, according to Manteca Police Sergeant Mike Aguilar – who serves as the department’s public information officer – that the police department is trying to stifle those who are panhandling legally or prevent people in the community from attempting to aid the less fortunate among us.
They just want to make sure that the resources are being utilized efficiently, and things that are given to those in city parks at locations throughout the community don’t turn into nuisances unexpectedly.
According to Aguilar, one of the recurring issues that Community Resource Officer Mike Kelly has had to deal with is the mess that is generated when things like food and bags of clothes are dropped off in places where both the homeless and vagrants gather – donations that are usually picked through for what can be used before the remains are scattered throughout the area.
“We don’t want to seem like we’re discouraging people from being generous and doing what they feel they can do to help – we’re actually trying to encourage it,” Aguilar said. “But we want to make sure that people go through the proper channels so that organizations that handle these matters around the clock every day of the year are able to do what they can to best serve these needs – the purpose is to render assistance to these people, and there are better ways to make sure that goal is being met.
“One of the comments that we’re seeing more and more is that people would like to see an ordinance making it a violation to give to panhandlers and we don’t want to do that – we just want to make sure that the right people are getting the help that is being offered and it isn’t becoming a problem for everybody else.”
Actually, the courts have ruled cities can’t simply carte blanche ban panhandling although they can set realistic limits as long as they are justified and apply to everyone.
Aguilar pointed out that while panhandling by itself is not a crime in Manteca; doing so within 100 feet of any controlled traffic intersection is – rendering the actions of those who stand at freeway off ramps and at strategic busy intersection in violation of the city ordinance.
And because it is illegal for panhandlers, it is also illegal for groups to do so even if it is for a non-profit or a “fill the boot drive” that firefighters conduct occasionally for charities.
Controlled intersections refer to traffic signals and stopped signs.
He also noted that reports have come into the police department from people in the community that have watched panhandlers at some of those intersections and reported that after a period of time those people have gotten into cars that were parked nearby and drove away out of the community.
Making sure that the money donated locally helps local people, Aguilar said, is achieved by supporting local organizations that not only help those who are already on the street, but also those that are on the verge of being there.
“Of all of the people that Officer Kelly helped in his first year in his new position, some of them were set to be homeless before they took advantage of some of the programs that are available – he actually prevented homelessness,” Aguilar said. “We’re not even making any suggestions as to where people should donate their money, but just prefer that it be a local organization that has an understanding how best to help so that we can provide here within our own community.”

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

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