HELP FOR HOMELESS
Dennis Buettner, PSWW II
Homeless Outreach Worker
Care Link Medical Center
Health Care for the Homeless
Haven of Peace Women’s Shelter
Mental Health Crisis Center – Homeless
His Way Recovery House
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6 THINGS THEY CAN’T DO
Soliciting in an aggressive manner means:
• approaching or speaking to a person, or following a person before, during or after soliciting, if that conduct is intended or is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm to oneself.
• intentionally touching or causing physical contact with another person during the course of soliciting.
• intentionally blocking or interfering with the safe passage of a pedestrian or vehicle by any means.
• using violent or threatening gestures toward a person.
• persisting in closely following or approaching a person after they have informed the solicitor they do not want to give them anything.
• using profane, offensive or abusive language which is inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction, either before, during, or after solicitation.
Take a close look at those who are panhandling.
Do you see gaunt faces or distended bellies?
Are they holding a sign standing next to their 80-pound dog?
And do you happen to see them at other times in a coffee shop using a smartphone and other electronic devices?
Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion knows the answers to those questions. The chief — and his officers — are on the street day in and day out. They talk with those who solicit — Obligacion prefers that term over panhandling — and hear their stories. And as a result they make a clear distinction between the homeless and those who solicit.
“You rarely see Manteca’s homeless solicit for money,” Obligacion said. “They are the ones you see bicycling around looking for bottles and cans to recycle.”
So who are the panhandlers or solicitors?
“Its people who have chosen that as a lifestyle,” the chief said.
And many of them hail not from Manteca but drive in from Modesto, Stockton, and Tracy because they find the take better here. Such was the case of a man profiled earlier this month in the Manteca Bulletin who drives to Manteca every day from his campsite at the Modesto Reservoir to solicit for money. And — as Obligacion noted — he has to be collecting more than $8 a day than he claims as the gas would more than eat up $8.
That brings up the best way that Manteca can reduce solicitation, aggressive or otherwise.
“We need to stop enabling them,” Obligacion said.
Again, stressing that there are two separate groups of people when it comes to the homeless and solicitors, Obligacion produces a printed list that his officers provide that offer outreach services for the homeless and transients.
The real cure is to get them off the street, cleaned up and in a job even if that job barely allows them enough money to survive.
“There are plenty of services out there,” the chief said.
One woman said she solicits to buy heroin
But he noted many who solicit opt not to access available services. They prefer what they are doing as they have no bills to worry about with the only issue facing them when they have collected adequate funds is to find a place to sleep for the night.
Obligacion shared an experience one officer had who talked to a woman who was at the Wal-Mart parking lot day in and day out soliciting. She told the officer that she’d collect enough money to buy heroin, get high and then when she needed to score again she’d head back to the Wal-Mart parking lot.
The police chief makes it clear that it isn’t that he doesn’t care about those on the streets. But in dealing with solicitors he sees a consistent pattern.
You never see one that looks as if they are hungry or malnourished. Often they possess cell phones or smartphones. They often have pets that they have to feed. All of those things tell him that solicitors aren’t at their wit’s end with stomachs grumbling.
Instead, there are pursuing a lifestyle choice.
“Manteca is a caring community,” Obligacion said.
And for that reason Manteca is a bit of a mark.
One couple comes to Manteca regularly from Tracy because they have told officers the giving is better here. Obligacion noted the woman partner is so well-versed in Manteca’s solicitation rules that she questioned an officer for stopping to talk to her and asking them to move on. That’s because they were at a stop sign and not an intersection controlled by traffic signals.
But even though the ordinance doesn’t prohibit solicitation at intersections controlled by stop signs, there is a question of loitering at the entrance to shopping center parking lots.
The department — in working with merchants — has used state loitering laws to either move, cite or arrest those who stand at parking lot entrances holding signs for trespassing.
“Think of the mother who is going shopping and has her young daughter in the passenger seat that’s right next to where a solicitors is holding a sign,” Obligacion said.
There are also cases where such individuals may look for a quick score — swiping something from the back of a truck in a parking lot or taking advantage of an uncloaked car door — so they can convert it into cash for food.
“They are looking to get money to eat and such,” Obligacion said. “That is what they do.”
Besides not enabling panhandlers by giving them money, Obligacion noted when people are confronted with an aggressive panhandler they need to report it to the police.
It gives police an opportunity to be involved in helping provide a long-term solution. Besides counseling or possibly arresting a solicitor based on the complaint, they can also establish a paper trail of complaints.
If enough complaints of aggressive solicitation are made at a specific location, the city would be able to craft an ordinance banning any solicitation in the location making it easier for police to address the problem.
The reports are critical to building a strong case that a ban is justified to meet thresholds set by court rulings.
And if you want to truly help those who are asking for money without being able to verify a true need, the chief suggests donating funds to a number of agencies that serve transients and the homeless with the intent to feed and shelter them as well as help the break the cycle.
“Problems with solicitation are cyclical,” Obligacion said. “After awhile, they will move on because they realize people are seeing them day in and day out week after week and will be less likely to give.”