Mike Kelly — the Manteca Police Department’s first community resource officer dedicated to addressing homeless issues — has been in his new position for 30 days.
In that time he has:
uarranged for a homeless woman to reunite with her family in San Jose by purchasing an ACE ticket.
uhelped another secure identification required to board a Greyhound bus and bought a ticket so she could return to her family in Oregon. You cannot board a Greyhound bus without legal ID.
ustarted working on getting another homeless woman back home to family in Pittsburgh, Penn.
“We aren’t running the homeless out of town,” Kelley said. “If (a homeless individual) wants to reunite with their families we are calling first and talking to them (the relatives) to make sure they are welcome.”
After Kelly confirms the family is willing to reunite with the homeless individuals, he then contacts agencies that provide funds for bus tickets and such.
“We are not driving them to the city limits and dumping them on someone else,” noted Captain Charlie Goeken.
The goal is to improve the homeless situation for those that are homeless as well as to address quality of life issues for Manteca residents. In doing so the direction given by Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion and the Manteca City Council is being followed: Help those that want help secure it while enforce laws regarding illegal conduct by those that opt to essentially play by their own rules.
Getting the homeless that want to go back to families willing to have them is just one faucet of what Kelly has been doing for the past month.
He has also:
placed six homeless in drug/alcohol treatment programs.
placed seven in homeless shelters including a family with two children that had been sleeping in their car for the past six months.
secured a fast food job for one homeless individual.
made an average of 20 to 25 contacts with homeless individuals per day.
been contacting downtown businesses and those elsewhere to see what issues the homeless are creating for them and to determine what steps can be taken to improve the situation.
handed out 45 homeless resource cards.
issued five citations for shopping carts.
issued two open container citations.
issued 25 warnings regarding violations of the city’s camping ordinance.
Kelly is no stranger to working with the homeless, Over the years the officer who has been with the department since 1999, has built a rapport with many that live on the streets.
‘A passion to
Goeken said the chief hired Kelly — who says he has a “passion to help people” — to fill one of the two new community resource officer positions because of his “heart” and familiarity with the homeless situation in Manteca. For years as a booking officer with the department he has overseen work crews assigned to remove illegal homeless encampments around the city. The crews are comprised of individuals performing court ordered community service.
Three years ago when he came across a homeless family living on a porch he stepped up — with the concurrence of the police chief, the parents, and social services — to have the three children live temporarily with his family until the parents were able to take care of them.
Kelly works 10-hour shifts Monday through Thursday.
He makes the rounds of public places after 6 a.m. to make sure everyone — homeless and otherwise — complies with city ordinance. The municipal code allows a person to only sit or lie on public property between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Essentially everyone has the right to sleep as the courts have ruled. Anyone can sit or lie on public property as long as it doesn’t break other existing laws or create a safety hazard such as sleeping in the street.
Kelly noted it is not illegal to sleep in a city park providing you can legally be there. Camping, however, is banned. That said it is illegal to be in any city park between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. In addition the City Council by minute order can call for parks to be closed earlier or operate different hours. The Tidewater Bikeway, for example is closed from sundown to sunrise.
Kelly will be joined in the coming months by a second community resource officer. Goeken said the second officer will work with Kelly for a month and then be assigned a work schedule that assures there is a community resource officer dealing with homeless on duty every day.
The officers will eventually have other duties but for now they are focused on homeless issues.
Best way to help is
not give homeless
& panhandlers money
Goeken and Kelly both said if the public wants to help the best thing they can do is to not give the homeless and panhandlers money and instead to donate to organizations that help the homeless in Manteca such as HOPE Family Shelter.
“They will get food from other sources and often use the money they get panhandling to support their habits,” Kelly said.
He related a recent encounter with two homeless individuals who were drinking alcohol that confirmed they were using money from panhandling to buy booze instead of food.
There is a Wednesday outreach luncheon for the homeless on Moffat Boulevard. Several churches also feed the homeless at set times during the course of a month. Various churches also distribute food from their food closets.
While Kelly said he will come across homeless who may not have eaten for a day or so, in most cases they are eating.
“A lot of individuals provide food to the homeless,” Kelly said.
Kelly noted that when he stops to talk with homeless he always makes it a point to ask if they want help accessing services to work toward getting off the street. He has become versed in a repertoire of services that are available and will make sure that the homeless can access them.
To further that goal Kelly has been issued a second department cell phone specifically for homeless individuals to call if they need to get in contact with him. He freely gives the number to homeless.
He noted almost all homeless had cell phones long before the federal government rolled out the free phone program for low-income individuals.
Kelly said the homeless are now getting to the point where they are comfortable calling him in a bid to get help.
There are places for
homeless to get off
the street providing
they follow the rules
Goeken noted that if any homeless individual is serous about getting off the street Kelly will find a place for them.
“There are plenty of options in the county,” Goeken said. “They (the homeless) just have to be willing to follow the rules.”
The biggest rule is being drug and alcohol free.
Kelly said that is a major stumbling point. He said a lot of families will no longer have anything to do with relatives that are homeless and substance abusers as they create problems ranging from stealing from them to support habits to bringing the wrong kind of people into their homes.
Goeken said residents can also help by “serving as the eyes” of the department by calling the non-emergency dispatch line to report homeless problems or do so through the government outreach on the city’s website. All homeless related issues are forwarded to Kelly’s email.
Homeless court is
coming to Manteca
Manteca Police are also working closely with a county-wide group to learn more about available resources. They have also arranged for a “homeless court” once a month to be conducted at the Manteca court branch where only homeless related cases such as illegal camping, shopping cart theft, aggressive panhandling, open container violations and such will be handled.
“It is difficult for (the homeless) to get to Stockton where the court is now held,” Goeken said.
The homeless court will also have county mental health workers, Veterans Administration outreach staff and other services available at the time cases are heard.
In the past 30 days Kelly has found out that sometimes just making the homeless aware what is illegal can change behavior.
An example is the city ordinance that prohibits taking shopping carts off a store’s premise.
“I’ve explained it to a couple (of homeless) who didn’t realize that was the case and (they returned) the carts,” Kelly said.
The carts that can easily cost $300 are left around town and often filled with trash.
“Some of the stuff they have in them is pretty disgusting,” Kelly aid. “You wouldn’t want to put food in them again.”
That is why stores will destroy shopping carts found in such a condition.
Kelly has been working with Caltrans to keep on top of illegal encampments in the state highway right-of-way.
Kelly noted Caltrans has limited resources but has been doing a fairly effective job at clearing such encampments.
That said, Kelly noted the logistics of tackling issues such as encampments along the freeway can be a bit daunting due to how agencies work. Three different Caltrans yards are in charge of freeway maintenance in Manteca. Tracy handles the 120 Bypass, Stockton handles Highway 99 north of the 120 Bypass, and Modesto along Highway 99 south of the 120 Bypass.
That means clearing up encampments in and around the 120 Byapss-99 interchange — which often has the highest concentration of illegal camping — requires working with three separate Caltrans yards.
Kelly notes the job he has does involves what some would refer to as social work.
“People make bad decisions and those decisions in the case of the homeless got them on the street,” Kelly said. “Once you’re there it can be hard to get off.”
Goeken noted that there will always be a homeless problem. The goal is to reduce it and improve the lives of the homeless the quality of life for Manteca residents by getting as many of the homeless off the street and to deal with those that create problems by breaking the law.
“We want them to become productive, taxpaying citizens,” Goeken said.
And to get to that point, Kelly said it takes remembering one thing.
“They’re human and I’m human.”
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com