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That’s what it costs to ‘hold’ a homeless person
A homeless individual with his belongings is shown at a Manteca shopping center.

It costs San Joaquin County taxpayers roughly $2,500 to hold a homeless individual — or anyone else for that matter — on charges through to arraignment.

And District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar is wondering whether that money might be better spent elsewhere when it comes to low-level offenders that have committed “moral” crimes or infractions and are unlikely to show back up for court even if they’re released.

Verber Salazar’s comments came as a speaker at the Manteca Interfaith Community Appeal’s event Thursday night at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. The gathering was designed to highlight homelessness in the community and the people that are working to address those issues.

The problem with arresting the unsheltered, Verber Salazar said, for crimes that are not overly serious is that the population is unlikely to return to the court to clear up the issues. That results in bench warrants that will make it even harder for them to find placement through government services or a job that can help lift them out of their current situation.

“The problem is that I just spent $2,500 of your hard-earned money and didn’t change anything,” Verber Salazar said of those situations when they arise. “With that $2,500 I could put them into rehab or give the money to shelters to keep them afloat for a few more months so they can serve people.”

And there’s not an easy solution for those on the frontlines to fall back on.

While Verber Salazar represented the issues faced by law enforcement in San Joaquin County and those tasked with carrying out justice, it was judge Barbara Kronlund – who heads up the county’s homeless court once a month – that talked about the struggles that the unsheltered face when it comes to clearing up past legal issues.

Since 2006, Kronlund has held an impromptu court session at the St. Mary’s Dining Hall with only a court clerk, a bailiff, a representative from the DA’s office, a local defense attorney, and the shelter staff that serve as case managers. She meets with the unsheltered where they are more comfortable and more likely to engage in the legal process to clear the backlog of issues that are affecting everything from their ability to get a job to the ability to qualify for assistance.

Kronlund said that the idea for the court was born out of the realization that the typical fines and fees that are paid by regular working taxpayers only further exacerbate the problem for the unsheltered and those that have fallen through society’s cracks. That happens by either making the burden on them even harder or force them further underground to avoid legal detection and thus, the services that they rely on to survive.

On any given night in San Joaquin County, according to Kronlund’s presentation, there are between 2,200 and 2,700 unsheltered individuals in San Joaquin County.

Meeting those people where they aren’t going to be ostracized. Part of the issue with getting homeless individuals to court, she said, is that they’re worried about being out of place – is a step towards reincorporating them back into society and onto the track where they can become productive members of society.

Thursday’s event was organized by a cross-section of local faith communities that have come together to help address from a different perspective – focusing on the humanity of the individuals in question and promoting empathy in the wide community when figuring out how to address the issues on the table.

Member churches of MICA include St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Islamic Center of Manteca, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Transformed Through Hope Ministries, Manteca Sikh Community, Baha’i Community, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.