All options are now on the table as Manteca’s municipal staff heeds elected officials directive to find ways to improve the homeless situation.
Acting City Manager Miranda Lutzow has called on virtually all city departments in a bid to develop a laundry list to explore and present to the City Council for consideration.
“All options are being looked at,” Lutzow noted.
And that includes what has long been viewed as a sort of third rail of local politics — a drop-in homeless shelter primarily for single adults.
A 9th District Court of Appeals ruling on a case out of Idaho that Manteca has joined a long list of other jurisdictions to try to get the U.S. Supreme Court to first review and then consider for possible reversal, has made it clear if jurisdictions do not have other alternatives for the homeless they essentially cannot restrict — or prevent — them from not just simply sleeping on public property but also establishing encampments.
Lutzow noted under the existing ruling if there is available capacity in a shelter the city could legally enforce laws aimed at stopping the homeless from sleeping on sidewalks, on municipal property, in parking lots, in parks, and other public locations.
Based on the homeless count conducted in January that noted 218 homeless people in Manteca for a 144 percent increase over the 2017 level of 88, such a shelter would need to accommodate at least 200 individuals.
The city is also exploring options for a more robust homeless resource center after Gov. Gavin Newsom rejected a bid for the city to sell the redevelopment agency acquired Qualex building at 555 Industrial Park Drive to a non-profit for that purpose.
Directive also includes finding ways to be less ‘tepid’ in
dealing with homeless issues
At the same time the directive to departments also includes finding ways to combat or address problems the homeless are causing or creating. It also includes looking at whether Manteca Police may be too tepid in walking the fine line put in place by a settlement following a class action suit that was filed in federal court on Nov. 13, 2015 by four homeless individuals alleging are city was violating their civil rights.
That settlement led to the hiring of two Manteca Police officers to deal almost exclusively with homeless issues with a heavy emphasis on working with them in conjunction with various county and non-profit services to get the homeless off the streets. That effort has resulted in 200 plus homeless being taken off the streets in over three years. At the same time the department — led by the two officers working with the homeless — said they would also address quality of life issues some of the homeless were creating for the entire city.
A number of residents and business owners — while supporting of the efforts of the two police officers — believe the department as a whole is not focusing on more egregious problems involving some homeless and essentially letting them have carte blanche.
Even if some of that is attributed to the county jail capacity situation or a decision by the district attorney’s office that other corrective measures that are significantly less expensive than processing a homeless individual through the criminal justice system that rarely, if ever, results in a change of behavior Lutzow said the council has made it clear they expect the city to work toward correcting and preventing such behavior.
The effort includes virtually every department that deals with or is impacted with the homeless including fire, police (that includes code enforcement), community development, streets, parks and recreation, and such.
Lutzow wants every option vetted and then presented to the council so they can make an informed decision and give clear direction of what to do next.
Some on council still see
Qualex as best solution
even if it includes
homeless shelter component
That is especially critical given the council is trying to decide what to do with the proposal for a homeless resource center at the Qualex site. While trying to work with the governor to see if there is a way to move forward, at least two council members have floated the idea of buying the Qualex structure back from the successor agency that was tasked with selling it and splitting the proceeds between 10 local taxing agencies.
One vision floated is to bring various agencies together under one roof and to even use part of the 57,000-square-foot structure as a drop-in shelter — something that wasn’t on the table until the 9th District Court of Appeals forced the issue.
At least once council member has expressed the belief the Qualex building is the best site for such an endeavor — including a possible homeless shelter for single adults — due to it being screened and secured from the street and nearby concerns which means less conflict with neighbors.
Lutzow noted the council before giving much more energy to such a possibility needs to be aware of all options for sites throughout the city.
effort significantly pushed
back gang & drug problems
in Manteca 15 years ago
The in-house effort Lutzow has put in place in reminiscent of the multi-department and multi-agency undertakings the city launched 15 years ago to address three serious issues — homeless, vagrancy, and drug use in Library Park as well in second floor efficiency apartments and in downtown alleys — as well as drive by shootings that were occurring at one point three times a week in the Southside Park neighborhood.
Prior to that effort the police were simply responding to incidents. It got to the point drug use was brazenly done in the opening around Library Park. Gangs had taken control of Southside Park where residents lived in fear and refused to allow their children to venture into the park.
The end result of that effort was the cleaning up of down town primarily by addressing issues with landlords and people occupying second floor housing in downtown. The shootings at Southside Park have virtually gone away and the park is now used by families and children.
A smaller scale effort rooted out similar problems with issues in and around apartments on the northwest corner of Northgate Drive and Crestwood Avenue in Manteca.
This time around tagging landlords for health code, fire code, and building code violations and such likely won’t do the trick. But the brainstorming could come up with ways of “homeless proofing” areas — such as the wrought-iron fencing that secured the Manteca Library and changing out landscaping and covering the top of trash enclosures as a number of businesses have done — as well as stepping up pressure on homeless that are creating problems that go beyond what falls under the court decision such as being able to have a place to sleep.
Manteca’s current tact
on homeless issues is
outgrowth of 2015 lawsuit
The current city response to homeless issues was shaped to a large degree by one man — Robert Schuknecht. He’s the guy who for over a year blocked part of the city sidewalk by the driveway to the East Yosemite Avenue McDonald’s with his three-level cart stacked with his belongings. He’d often sit on the sidewalk with his off leash dog while strumming his guitar between taking handouts from people and firing up his BBQ in the landscaped areas of an adjoining dental office.
Schuknecht got three other homeless men and obtained legal counsel to sue the City of Manteca on Nov. 13, 2015 in federal court essentially for not providing them shelter and enforcing ordinances that allegedly violated their constitutional rights.
The lawsuit contended:
The city was targeting the homeless by locking restrooms at Library Park and turning off the electricity at the gazebo at Library Park so the homeless couldn’t charge their smartphones.
The City Council demonstrated they were targeting the homeless because they sent a letter to Assembly member Kansen Chu expressing their concern with proposed legislation that would prevent cities from adopting ordinances prohibiting people from sleeping or resting in a legally parked motor vehicle and penalizing people when they did.
There is insufficient shelter space for homeless in Manteca and that the three shelters that exist do not accept single homeless men.
The city violated the 8th and 14th Amendments by making being homeless a crime.
Three municipal codes regarding camping, transient shelter, and storage of personal property violated the 4th, 8th and 14th Amendments.
Steps Manteca took to
avoid a massive
Manteca leaders — seeking to avoid a lawsuit they were advised could end up costing the city millions that insurance might not cover — suspended enforcement of ordinances that were in place to address quality of life issues homeless can create after the lawsuit was filed. And, instead of putting the city’s coffers in the hands of a federal jury they obtained specialized legal counsel to see what other cities had in place to address homeless issues that has passed constitutional muster in the courts.
Those steps included:
Eliminating the entire ordinance dealing with transient shelter.
Deleting “homeless” references in the camping ordinance to make it clear the rules apply to everyone.
Changing municipal law to comply with court rulings that essentially say the homeless have the right to sleep and can do so on non-secured public property from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following day adding the Manteca Transit Center and the Manteca Community Center (Manteca Veterans Center), both on Moffat Blvd., as locations where camping would not be allowed ever as well as locations such as parks that are closed during those hours as well to everyone. That doesn’t cancel out other laws. For example, the city has to allow sleeping on public sidewalks from 11 p.m. to 6 p.m. providing laws regarding access including the handicapped are observed. That means a clear passage of three feet. It is why sleeping on public sidewalks in residential neighborhoods is virtually universally illegal while commercial district sidewalks that tend to be six feet or wider makes it legal to do so
Modified the personal storage ordinance to note items removed from parks and other locations would be held for 90 days instead of 72 hours as was previously stipulated before being destroyed. That is more robust than the 30-day requirement the courts have established as the standard.
Settlement paid $47,000
to homeless & their lawyers
After those steps were taken, the city approved a settlement agreement in 2016 that covered the following:
The four plaintiffs including Schuknecht and their attorneys received $47,000. (The city also incurred nearly $30,000 in legal costs.)
The city expunged pending citations and/or charges regarding the three municipal code sections targeted in the suit.
The city put in place a community resource officer to help direct homeless to services and deal with homeless issues as well as conduct future homeless summit and seek opportunities to apply for state and federal affordable housing and homeless grants.
City staff in 2016 issued a report to the City Council that referenced studies that show the anti-social behavior that some homeless employ — poor sanitation, substance abuse, and panhandling as examples — is not the cause of being homeless but the consequence of being in that state. Individuals become homeless for a wide variety of reasons such as unemployment, abuse, neglect and the inability to cope with major life events such as the death of another person.
It noted once homeless are on the street, they are caught in a downward spiral that tends to heighten anti-social behavior.
“Understanding better the humanity, causes, and best way of helping those who will eventually accept help, will lead to better outcomes,” the report noted. “In the end, the idea path to ending homelessness is helping individuals obtain the resources needed to become healthy physically and mentally, financially self-sufficient, and permanently sheltered. Any strategies considered by the City Council or regional community in addressing this complex issue need to keep the end goals in mind.”
The report notes that voter adopted propositions decriminalizing some behavior as well as the state prison/county jail realignment to reduce prison population has made it increasingly difficult for law enforcement to keep communities safe.
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