Debby Moorhead finds herself between the proverbial rock and hard place as a Manteca City Council member when it comes to addressing homeless issues.
There has been times that she’s felt intimidated and even threatened by a few of the homeless will leaving a Manteca restaurant. Other times she has been inspired to lend a helping hand.
As one of the more vocal council members working to make it possible to establish a homeless resource center in the former Qualex building at 555 Industrial Park Drive she has been a target of critics who contend all she wants to do is cuddle the homeless and that the resource center will bring more homeless to Manteca.
“People demand that the city do something and that’s what we are trying to do,” said Moorhead who has served on the council for 10½ years.
And while she can vividly recall occasions where aggressive homeless individuals have made her uncomfortable — including one incident outside of the Denny’s restaurant on South Main Street where she felt physically threatened by a homeless man who followed her to her car and was demanding money, Moorhead strives to keep things in context.
“We have to remember the homeless are people,” Moorhead said.
Moorhead sat down for a question and answer session on the homeless resource center proposal, the Inner City Action organization that would operate it, the city’s ongoing efforts dealing with the homeless, as well as homeless issues in general.
QUESTION: Is the intent to open a homeless shelter in the former Qualex building?
ANSWER: That absolutely will not happen. The state legislation allowing the former Manteca Redevelopment Agency property to be sold at below market value — most likely for $1 — specifically to Inner City Action authorizes it to be used as a homeless resource center and not a homeless shelter. The Assembly voted 76-0 with four absent after it was made clear it would not be a homeless shelter.
If the State Senate ultimately concurs, the city will then enter into an agreement that explicitly spells out it can only be used as a homeless resource center and never can it be a homeless shelter under any circumstance. When it ceases to be a homeless resource center the property would revert back to the RDA successor agency to go to auction with the sales proceeds split between 10 local taxing agencies.
QUESTION: Is the Qualex deal a done deal?
ANSWER: No. In order to make the proposal work the current Assembly version will need to be amended to allow the sale of the building as a homeless resource center to take place without 100 percent approval of all taxing entities. It would then go back to the Assembly for approval. The process could take until October. Then, if both houses approve it, Gov. Gavin Newsom would have to sign it into law. The city also needs to approval a conditional use permit that is now being processed,
QUESTION: How much is this costing the city?
ANSWER: Inner City Action will need to do necessary work to improve the building. They intend to use funds from the sale of property they own in McFarland that is valued in excess of $1 million that has roughly $900,000 in equity to fund the work.
Moorhead noted the city has sunk roughly $4.5 million in tax dollars into the property without obtaining any public use except for city storage and fire training for the past 13 years. If the property were sold for $1.5 million, the city would receive a $221,752 return on its investment of $4.5 million in tax dollars. Moorhead believes Inner City Action will be able to make a sizeable dent in homeless issues that will improve the overall quality of life in Manteca so the community will receive public benefit from their original investment.
QUESTION: Wouldn’t it be better for the city to have someone buy the space and create jobs instead of helping the homeless?
ANSWER: Moorhead disputes rosy claims that the Qualex building has the potential to be a large job generator. She looks across the street at the much larger former home of Indy Electronics that subsequently operated as Alphatec and then Turnkey Solutions that has been vacant even longer that Qualex.
QUESTION: All Inner City Action is going to do is feed the homeless so how are they going to make a difference?
ANSWER: First of all, when Inner City had a temporary resource center at the site when they got 30 people successfully off the street they did feed the homeless but only after they worked to earn credit. Inner City Action had them clean up encampments and parks to earn credits. Moorhead noted during the initial 25-day effort that much of the homeless belongings that cluttered the community disappeared.
QUESTION: Isn’t it just a place for homeless to hang out?
ANSWER: No. They talk to the homeless to try and find the root of why they are on the streets. The staff can relate because they have gotten off the streets. If they are not ready to get off the street, Inner City will work with them until they are. Sometimes there are homeless that won’t — or don’t want to — get off the street. Inner City doesn’t continue to work with them.
Inner City uses vans to ferry the homeless between encampments and the resource center. They will not allow any homeless to camp at or near the resource center.
QUESTION: What does the resource center offer?
ANSWER: Those who are willing to work get credit not just for meals but for clothes and such as well as have the ability to take showers and tend to personal grooming as well as get dog food for their pets. They can also get clothes washed. They are provided with storage bins where they can check belongings in and not lug them around Manteca or stash them on private property. They are items they don’t need wherever they are living.
Once the homeless are ready to get off the street, they will be placed in drug or alcohol detoxification if that is needed. Those who have relatives that are willing to take them in are suppled bus tickets.
When the homeless and clean, they are sheltered by Inner City Action at their Stockton housing that the organization will continue to operate. They work “as a family” at various endeavors that include things such as running concessions at professional golf tournaments and music festivals across the country to working to clean up fire debris in Paradise. They basically learn work ethic and other employable skills.
QUESTION: Why is Inner City Action successful?
ANSWER: They are driven by the fact they have been there. Pastor Frank Saldana, who was once on the street himself, sees his life mission as helping his brothers and sisters get off the streets as well. That also drives the rest of the Inner City staff.
But it is more than that. As those they are helping progress, there are firms that work with Inner City that are impressed by the work ethic that has been instilled in the former homeless. Inner City not only works to place the former homeless but also transports them to work. When they are in a position to rent their own place, Inner City uses donations such as furniture as well as items donated by firms like Costco to help them get established on their own. Once out of the program they enjoy a high success rate including some who have bought their own homes.
QUESTION: Won’t this just attract homeless to Manteca?
ANSWER: No as this is not a handout such as St. Mary’s Dining Hall in Modesto, a drop in shelter like in Turlock or turning over a park to the homeless to camp in as Modesto did. Inner City Action works to get homeless off the street and being able to become a productive part of society by taking a holistic approach that is significantly more robust than the usual homeless resource center.
The Manteca Police, in working with the homeless, have discovered the vast majority have ties to Manteca. Either they became homeless while living in Manteca, were raised here, have relatives here or lived and worked here at some point.
In some cases the homeless migrate to the Northern San Joaquin Valley from the Bay Area where the problem is much worse.
QUESTION: Why don’t we just run the homeless out of town?
ANSWER: The best way to answer that question is to point out the one fact that you can argue over until you are blue in the face and it won’t change — the courts have made it clear it is not a crime to be homeless. There are a lot of reasons why it would be wrong to do so, but “running them out of town” would open the taxpayers to lawsuits that could run into the millions of dollars and not resolve anything.
QUESTION: What is the city doing about the homeless?
ANSWER: There are two police officers dedicated to working to try to get the homeless off the streets as well as enforcing laws that can be a challenge do to the legal system and reality. They have built relationships that have convinced many homeless not to congregate in areas such as Wilson Park and Library Park downtown in such a manner that others may not be comfortable to enjoy the parks as well.
It should be pointed out that Inner City Action has been a solid partner working with the Manteca Police Department and other non-profits and county services during the past 30 months to get nearly 300 homeless off the street.
What the city is trying to do is improve the situation and avoid it from getting worse. We are not trying to open a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen that would simply enable the homeless to stay comfortable on the streets. We are trying to put in place a solution that addresses homelessness by working on issues that got them on the street in the first place in a manner that they can be successful once they are off the street so that they don’t return.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org