Mike Kelly — arguably a man with more working knowledge of Manteca’s homeless than virtually all of the city’s 75,000 residents that have a roof over their heads — knows how to get many of the homeless off the street: Don’t enable them by helping them stay warm with full stomachs.
It is advice he shares with frustrated parents and others dealing with loved ones who are among the roughly 90 percent of Manteca’s homeless that Kelley says have drug and alcohol abuse problems.
Kelly — Manteca Police’s community resource officer that has been dedicated since July to working with the homeless to get them off the street while at the same time making sure city laws are followed — told Manteca Rotarians during their noon meeting Thursday at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room how he shared that advice with one family.
The parents were at their wit’s end that they couldn’t get their son off the streets and into drug rehab. The son was abusing drugs. At their request Kelly made contact to make him aware of substance abuse programs. The son — who the parents tried to keep fed — told Kelly where he could go.
Kelley talked with the parents about what they were doing.
Then he gave them the tough advice. They needed to stop giving him food and ways to stay warm.
“They need to be hungry and cold,” Kelly said of the homeless who have substance issues. “It sounds cruel but if they have a full stomach and are warm (they have no incentive) to get off the streets.”
It is why Kelly is trying to educate the general public to stop enabling what are destructive lifestyles for many of the homeless.
He noted that a well-meaning effort by an individual who provided dozens upon dozens of tents, tarps, and large umbrellas to them has made it harder to get homeless to the point they are willing to take the step needed to enter rehab programs.
And perhaps even worse are private citizens who feed the homeless on a constant basis at Library Park.
“Some of the homeless are eating four or five times a day,” Kelly said.
They then take Food Stamps they receive and trade or sell them for drugs since they don’t have to buy food. A recent Manteca Police drug sweep in Library Park nabbed three such homeless buying and selling drugs.
And those who think Kelly is against the homeless don’t see beyond the traditional view of police interaction with the homeless.
“Manteca is way ahead of probably every other California city,” Kelly said of having an officer dedicated fulltime to work on homeless issues.
The decision to deploy community resource officers to address Manteca’s homeless issues was done with two equally important goals established by the City Council: Help connect the homeless to available resources and take a firm yet fair approach to making sure city laws are followed.
To that end Kelly has helped bring non-profits and government agencies that help the homeless in Manteca together. His role beyond helping facilitate the coordination of efforts is to serve as the conduit that the homeless — when they are ready to do so — contact to get connected with help.
Kelly is the face the homeless see four days a week. Kelly is the guy whose cell phone number they have. Kelly is the guy with the police car trunk full of things they might need such as hygiene kits provided by a Girl Scout Troop. Kelly is the guy that brings them coffee from Starbucks bought out of his own pocket on his morning rounds after they have kept their promise to go out of their way to keep areas clean. Kelly is the guy that they can call when they want to go home and he’ll do everything in his power to make that happen. Kelly is the guy that if they need clothes they can go to that has the cards they can take the Hospice Hope Chest thrift shop in the 100 block of South Main Street to get clothes and shoes they need for free.
Clothing is a frustrating issue for Kelly. He noted boxes upon boxes are dropped off each week at Library Park. Almost all of it gets strewn about along with leftover food when the homeless pick out the few items they want and toss the rest.
Kelly encourages people to donate their used clothing to the Hospice thrift store. Not only does the thrift store using cards that Kelly issues provide the homeless exactly what they need for free, but by donating to the thrift store it assures 90 percent plus of the clothing people leave for the homeless doesn’t end up simply being landfilled.
Kelly will be joined in the streets in the next few days by a second community resource officer that was just hired. After the officer finishes department training and makes the rounds with Kelly a few times, the city will have a CRO officer working with the homeless and related issues every day.
That also includes helping property owners with perennial problems. After one homeless lady kept camping out next to a bank’s ATM, the police were contacted and the matter referred to Kelly. He started working with the lady and made stopping at the bank every day when he started his rounds a priority to get her up and moving. After about three months enough trust developed that the homeless lady took the big step. She asked to get into a program and Kelly made it happen by serving as the conduit between stalwart organizations such as Stockton-based Inner City Ministries and the homeless.
“You should see her now,” Kelly told Rotarians. “She is looking a lot better.”
Shifting toward working
to prevent homeless
In the past week the coordinated effort of the various groups working with Kelly got another four people off the streets bringing the total since July to 95.
But equally important were two others that Kelly was able to prevent from being getting stuck on the streets after one night of being homeless. He was able to connect them with relatives in Oregon and get them to a place they could work to get back on their feet again without being on the street.
That reflects a growing emphasis — working to prevent people from becoming homeless.
Kelly is now fielding calls from people trying to help someone avoid the streets. In some cases they are older, in some cases they are younger.
The common denominator is they don’t know where to turn to for help or how to reach out to family.
To that end St. Vincent de Paul Society has donated $2,500 to allow Kelly to secure 33 nights at a local motel for short stays of two or three days at the most for individuals that efforts are being made to get them either into a program or find relatives or friends willing to help.
Although Kelly is definitely has the highest profile in the Manteca effort to help the homeless and address issues they often create, he makes it clear it is not about him.
“It is the community that is making this work,” he stressed.
He’s just the guy the city has committed to funding 40 hours a week to be in the trenches working to reduce the ranks of the homeless and handle the homeless that break the law.
Kelly said he has to laugh whenever he hears news reports of some city proclaiming they are going to solve the homeless problem.
“Homeless are never going to go away,” he said. “What you can do is work (to reduce the number) of homeless and manage homeless issues better.”
And to that end he is hoping freelancer Good Samarians in the city will join the coordinated community effort as well as the Manteca Police to work to improve the situation.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org