Progress is being made in Manteca’s two-front effort to address chronic homeless issues.
Those who habitually break the law by pitching homeless camps on public and private property where it has been made clear they are not welcome are seeing work crews remove their illegal encampments .
Meanwhile, those willing to take a helping hand to get off the street are starting to come forward. The biggest success is one man who, in less than a month, got clean, was helped in landing a job and secured an apartment that allows him and his wife to leave the streets behind.
Manteca Police responding to a complaint last week made a startling discovery on the Gordon property on Union Road down the street from the Manteca headquarters fire station. The property is where homeless started fires in an a vacant home they took over last summer. The fire got out of control and started burning dry vegetation threatening a number of nearby homes.
The buildings have since been cleared from the fenced off site. Neighbors recently complained to police about apparent homeless ignoring the posted no trespassing signs.
When police went to inspect, they found a sophisticated underground homeless bunker. Officer Mike Kelly said it had upgraded touches including an eight-foot by eight-foot area of high quality hardwood flooring that the homeless had somehow obtained. Offenders assigned to a county work crew spent last Saturday cleaning the bunker out.
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Inner City Action making progress
The Stockton-based Inner City Action — a church without walls — has been providing free meals and distributing toiletries and other items every Wednesday for the past month at Metal Tech on Moffat Boulevard.
Brought to Manteca through the efforts of The Place Of Refuge — one of the local churches and organizations to answer Police Chief Nick Obligacion’s call to help find a solution to Manteca’s chronic homeless problems — Inner City Action has gotten five individuals off the street and into a facility with bedrooms. Of those five, three have managed to stick with it including the man who has been able to secure his own apartment.
Obligacion noted Inner City Action offers food and other items with no strings attached. They do make it clear that any homeless individuals who want help to get cleaned up and work toward getting off the street will be assisted. The non-profit maintains five beds for men and five beds for women. They also arrange transportation to the location in Stockton.
So far Inner City Action has served 207 meals in four weeks.
The police chief has scheduled the first follow-up gathering to the homeless summit for Tuesday, Feb. 17, from 9 a.m. to noon at Calvary Community Church on Lathrop Road. It is designed to bring stakeholders up to speed on what has happened so far, discuss ongoing efforts and possible review the homeless count taken last month in Manteca. There will be no open microphone as there was at the summit.
While Obligacion noted complaints have dropped regarding crimes caused by the homeless, he cautioned that warmer weather may reverse that trend. Again, he emphasized that addressing homeless concerns is a long haul endeavor. The city’s efforts are aimed at helping those who want to be off the street and dealing with those who chose to stay on the street and break laws in order to do so.
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Landscaping sometimes conducive to harboring homeless encampments
Obligacion noted landscaping design sometimes makes it possible for the homeless to set up camp in high traffic locations.
For a long time, as an example homeless individuals lived right on top of the intersection of Spreckels Avenue and Moffat Boulevard. They had dug a depression behind the Spreckels Park monument sign near the BMX track. A thick clump of mature shrubs as well as trees that were allowed to branch out close to the ground hiding the homeless until their use of a brightly covered tarp gave them away.
They had also used leaves and other debris to camouflage their encampment.
It isn’t uncommon for the homeless to do the same along freeway ramps and even adjacent to — or along — freeway right-of-way.
Encampments over the years have been removed adjacent to the sound wall among bushes along the Highway 120 Bypass near the Paseo Villas apartments, in the canopy of trees along the Union Road interchange, at the base of the Spreckels Park sign along Highway 99 and other locations.
Last month on one Saturday the city cleared out five encampments including one that had more than 20 squatters on Caltrans property on the northeast side of the Louise Avenue overcrossing of Highway 99.
They had gone as far as digging a cave into the dirt “hill” used to support Louise Avenue as it climbs toward the bridge creating the potential for a cave-in or issues to develop with the road.
Obligacion said the city can’t simply go onto private property to address homeless encampments or deal with those that trespass unless they have a letter on file from the property owners.
There is such a letter on file for the Gordon property where the homeless bunker was removed this past Saturday.
Obligacion encouraged those who see a homeless encampment to call police dispatch.