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Homeless pitch tent at Manteca preschool
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Paula Camp would like to be able to say that she looks forward to going to work.

After all, she owns and runs KinderCamp Academy – a Manteca preschool on Mission Ridge Drive behind Safeway – and knows that all of the smiling faces and exuberant cheers she’ll be awarded should be more than enough to lift anyone’s spirits.

But unfortunately it’s a contingent of Manteca’s homeless population that, until the Manteca Police Department began cracking down earlier this year, would greet her on a regular basis by pitching tents in front of her door and taking shelter under the slide on the playground.

So when she pulled up Tuesday morning and saw that they had returned, she did the only thing that she could do to get their attention – honked her horn – before opening her door and yelling that she was calling the police and that they would be removed upon their arrival if they didn’t leave.

A neighbor didn’t take too kindly to the horn honk, and the situation quickly blew up from there. It created a scene that included throngs of officers responding to her 911 call (she says she often calls the emergency number when she sees homeless people on her property, but the dispatchers, who could hear the screaming neighbor, rushed officers to the scene) and a rekindling of the frustration that has been growing for months.

To put it lightly, Paula Camp is fed up.

“I’ve been in business in Manteca since 1996, and right now I’m questioning why I’m even still doing this,” she said. “This is something that’s going to escalate into a situation that’s all bad – whether it’s one of my little daycare kids or their parents, it’s going to escalate and that’s not something that’s going to be good in an environment like this.

“I’ve got to think about my little children that run up to the door and see a homeless person camped out in front of it. I think that is unsafe, and this is a place where safety is important.”

Camp said that she’s been in close contact with Manteca Police Lt. Tony Souza to try and come up with ways to solve the issue and increase police presence in the area during the early morning hours – a time-frame, she said, that comes right in the middle of a shift-change.

And given the nature of her business and the clientele that it serves, Souza said that making sure that safety is preserved is a priority of the department as well.

“We’re working on encouraging the homeless not to frequent that location because there are young children around,” Souza said. “Typically homeless people stay away from schools or other high-profile areas because they’re trying to avoid detection, and they’ll use remote areas. For the most part they appear to be cooperative with the owner when she has asked them to leave, so we’ll continue to monitor that.”

Souza said that the physical makeup of Camp’s property makes it somewhat ideal for the homeless, and that the department has, and will continue to, discourage people from going on to the property that aren’t welcome – aided by the Camp’s permission to use arrest as a tool of deterrent.

“Typically the homeless look for areas that are out of the way so they can rest without being bothered – where they aren’t going to encounter police or anybody else, really,” Souza said. “They try to find hidden areas or concealed areas that are going to give them refuge. And they’re looking for a little bit of protection as well. It appears that’s what this is to them, and we want to change that.”