The homeless are getting the message — at least when it comes to Library Park.
It is now relatively unusual to see homeless pile their belongings and camping paraphernalia in Library Park or to see the homeless, vagrants, and others hang out there when the park is closed to public use from dawn to dusk.
As a result more families — including young mothers with children — have been slowly returning to the downtown park that has undergone a $1.2 million expansion and upgrades in recent years in a bid to enhance its appeal as a community gathering place.
It is a direct result of the Manteca Police Department’s two-pronged effort to make sure the homeless who want to be helped to get off the street are given that opportunity as well as cracking down on vagrants that hang out among the homeless as well as some of the homeless themselves that break the law.
Much has been made about how Manteca Police Community Resource Officer Mike Kelly since July 1, 2016 in working with non-profits agencies has been able to help get 140 homeless off the streets. That includes 100 plus that have are in treatment programs, have been reunited with families, or have been able to secure jobs and some type of housing.
Kelly also has led the department’s effort to crackdown on lawless behavior along vagrants and homeless alike. From May 1 to Aug. 27, there have been 111 citations issued at Library Park, Wilson Park behind the Manteca Post Office and nearby areas. Police Chief Jodie Estarziau noted some of the citations issued to individual are for multiple offenses.
Thirty-one have been for failure to leave the parks after they close every day. Typically those cited are warned first before a citation is issued if they don’t change their behavior. Library Park is closed from dusk to dawn. Eight have been for unlawful camping and 11 for illegal storage of camping and other possessions in public places. Another 33 were cited for entering any park or building such as the library that the Manteca Parks and Recreation Department operates without complying with all regulations.
Kelly typically works with the homeless informing them of city and state laws they may be violating and giving them options when possible before going to citations.
There have also been citations issued for possession of a controlled substance, possession of meth, possession of aerosol paint used for graffiti vandalism, and 22 arrest warrants executed.
The city also has cleared out the Library Park courtyard to eliminate overnight camping by securing it with a decorative wrought iron fence.
Estarziau noted complaints regarding Library Park have dropped significantly although the city still receives complaints about Wilson Park and with some homeless that will lounge around the eastern side of the library away from entrances but near the afterhours book return across from Wilson Street.
Wilson Park historically has seen little if no use of the non-homeless general public.
The City Council has asked staff to present potential new strategies to augment what is already underway to address vagrant and homeless issues at the upcoming Sept. 5 council meeting. Earlier this month residents told the council during a meeting the city wasn’t doing enough to address problems caused by vagrants as well as the homeless.
The current effort is expected to improve once a second community resource officer is brought onboard by Oct. 1 that would allow an officer dedicated to the problems of homeless and vagrants seven days a week instead of the current four days.
Manteca has put in place a series of ordinances addressing issues in parks and illegal camping that adhere to court rulings that are addressed at everyone and not just the homeless.
The ordinance change made it illegal to camp, occupy camp facilities, or use camp paraphernalia in the following areas:
The Manteca Transit Center at 220 Moffat Blvd.
The Moffat Community Center at 580 Moffat Blvd.
Any public property except when the person is sitting or lying on public property between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. of the following day. That means using areas such as public sidewalks for that purpose between those hours.
The ordinance is modeled of those in other California cities where the municipal code has passed muster with legal challenges. It essentially acknowledges the court’s requirement that cities respect the need of homeless to sleep — hence the reference to sitting on lying on public property for a seven-hour period between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. It also allows enforcement of quality of life laws impacting the entire community.