Jeff Zellner is living the American Dream.
The 36-year-old has a heathy family and a home.
As a successful financial advisor he is in the process of building his own office and hiring additional agents.
Go back 22 years ago and it was a different story.
Zellner was homeless. His mom was a single parent struggling to keep things together financially. He spent much of his childhood going from couch to couch in the homes of people his mother knew. He even spent time in a homeless shelter. That pattern changed when he turned 14 and was able to go live with his grandmother.
His upbringing and his subsequent success as an adult that also encompasses a long list of community service endeavors including currently serving as president of the HOPE Family Shelter board may provide Zellner with the most unique perspective of all of the candidates seeking two seats in the Nov. 8 Manteca City Council election when it comes to addressing the city’s homeless concerns.
Zellner firmly believes adding two community resource officers to the Manteca Police to address homeless issues is a step in the right direction but is quick to add “it’s not enough.”
“The city needs to work with the community to help prevent people from becoming homeless,” Zellner said. “It’s much harder to get people off the street once they are on it.”
Zellner talks of friends who work with at-risk youth — foster children and others who attend county schools. When they reach 18 and earn a high school diploma, they are simply given $30 and dropped off at a homeless shelter. That — Zellner said — does not lead to the best outcomes.
He’d like to see mentoring programs where trades people and others work with such kids that are struggling with the emotional scars of being homeless so that when they do become adults they will have skills — and mentors— to fall back on.
That said he believes the city needs to take a firm and consistent enforcement stance with those that do not want help getting off the street and who opt not to follow the rules.
“I know you don’t have to get stuck on the streets,” Zellner said.
He added that the families and single moms that HOPE Family Shelters work with “want to be off the streets.”
“They are willing to do what it takes,” Zellner said. “In a sense, they’re the easy ones to help.”
The HOPE shelters are helping reduce homelessness. A San Joaquin County annual that tracks the progress of all who have been placed in temporary shelters each year reported that 77 of the 218 mothers and children who stayed at the Raymus House — one of three shelters operated by the non-profit agency — ended back on the street in 2014. In 2015, not a single woman or child housed temporarily sheltered at Raymus House ended up back on the streets.
And while Zellner sees the city tackling the homeless problem as one of the big issues facing Manteca, he also believes he can be an effective player in not just bringing more employment opportunities to Manteca but also keeping up with public safety needs and bringing more common sense to City Hall in terms of how municipal staff interacts with the community they serve.
At the top of his list is addressing complaints he hears from homeowners and businessmen alike — getting often contradictory messages about what they can and can’t do with their property. In many cases a homeowner is told they can do something by a city staff member only to be cited for a code violation and in turn be informed it doesn’t matter what they were told that the courts will uphold what the adopted city rules state.
That is why he believes it is a false sense of being fiscally prudent to save money by not issuing permits for things such as fences or declining to provide responses in writing on property improvement questions from residents that staff may view as routine. That’s because as Zellner has seen over the years in his role as a Manteca Planning Commission member, other issues almost always come up that lead to problems.
“Code enforcement is doing a difficult job,” Zellner said stressing he is not faulting them.
Where Zellner believes the problem lies are with the various departments that are failing to communicate effectively with each other as well as residents or are unaware of how policies of other departments may go counter to a blessing they may give for a specific endeavor.
That said, Zellner said he would push to allow new 7-foot high residential fences. That’s a position he has taken on the Manteca Planning Commission. He understands the concern some in law enforcement have with scaling fences but he believes having a 7-foot fence option will provide Manteca residents with better security given the number of times a law enforcement officer may have to go over their fence as opposed to attempts by others who have no business doing so.
Zellner wants to keep public safety adequately staffed but also doesn’t want to overreact and risk undermining funding for other pressing needs such as streets as well as parks and recreation.
Zellner pointed out that sometimes things get magnified on social media. That said he believes police and fire need the manpower and equipment to effectively serve and protect the community.
Zellner also wants to work to bring more jobs to Manteca.
He’s part of the private sector move to step up efforts downtown. He is past president of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce board and has worked for a number of years through the business organization to develop more economic opportunities Manteca.
Zellner said his bottom line for running is simple: He wants to make sure Manteca can be a place where people are safe, can prosper, and have a community where standards are maintained.
He added that a lot of people who do not live in Manteca have a fairly good impression of its efforts to date. He wants to take things to the next level and avoid backsliding which, as he noted, can happen if homeless concerns aren’t addressed effectively.