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Homeless woman links 7 carts together
The seven carts, including pilfered shopping carts, that were chained together and being pulled around Manteca by a homeless woman. - photo by Photo courtesy Manteca Police Department

The women arrested Monday for being in possession of six shopping carts belonging to stores as well as a seventh storage-style cart provides a novel twist on the misconception that homeless are the primary thieves of the carts that each cost between $80 and $400 new.

Manteca Police were initially called about an individual storing property along the on-ramp to northbound Highway 99 at Yosemite Avenue. Officer Stephen Smith, assigned to the department’s homeless effort, found a woman with seven carts — six of them store shopping carts — chained together and overloaded with property. Among the shopping carts she was pulling around were two from Target that supposedly has a system that locks wheels if they are taken off their property to deter pilferage and one each from Food-4-Less and Petsmart. 

The woman was arrested for an active warrant.

The city dispatched a truck and a trailer to retrieve the carts and their contents the officer found on a driveway next to the Arco station that leads to a storage facility and the Black Bear Diner. 

Shopping carts being abandoned throughout Manteca are not a homeless problem per se.

While many have long attributed the problem to homeless commandeering them to push their belongings around, store managers and police note the vast majority of the culprits are people who are illegally taking them from the parking lot of stores to take groceries and other purchases home.

Rarely do the homeless snatch a shopping cart from a store’s parking lot. Instead when they do take them it is from where others leave them. Hot spots include McNary Circle where there are numerous duplexes and four-plexes east of Doctors Hospital, along Moffat Boulevard where several motels rent rooms by the week, older apartment complexes in the central district, and at locations sprinkled through the city where renters typically have no way to travel to and from stores except on foot.

Often times as many as a dozen carts will accumulate in one place as those who “borrow” the carts rarely take them back on their next shopping trip. 

That said, shopping carts have popped up along Atherton Drive, along freeway ramps, and even in orchards.  Carts have been left in front of $500,000 homes, in the middle of vacant fields, on school grounds, and in parks.

The city for more than 15 years has relied on the tireless efforts of the Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP) to help control the abandoned shopping carts.

Research 12 years ago showed that some larger Manteca retailers were losing $6,000 to $10,000 a year from carts that were never retrieved or were destroyed after they had been taken from their parking lots.  

 During the week SHARP volunteers during their patrols for graffiti, to remove illegal signs left up on light poles and other locations for garage sales and such, vacation checks, and general efforts to provide the department with additional eyes in neighborhoods, note where shopping carts have been left.

Those not retrieved by the stores are then once a week collected by the city and stored with stores given a deadline to pick up the carts.

Besides tackling abandoned shopping carts in a more timely manner than when stores relied on contracted retrieval services, the SHARP effort frees up paid city personal for more pressing concerns.

Citizens can help the effort in two ways.

They can use the government outreach on the city’s website or access the City of Manteca app available on the Android and App Store to report shopping cart locations. Or, as Police Chief Jodie Estarziau has suggested in the past, if citizens see a shopping cart and they’re walking to the store, they can simply take it back with them.

 Some retailers such as Target employ a low tech system using a 1-inch wire loop buried under the perimeter of the parking lot. It is connected to a low-power antenna. Push a cart over that loop and a signal triggers the rear wheel on the carts to lock using a boot. The only way to get it to roll again is for workers to use an electric device to deactivate the boot.

The now closed Manteca Kmart on Northgate Drive had a cart deposit system in the late 1990s requiring quarters to get a cart that would be returned when the shopper returned the cart to a corral. The store dropped the system after receiving numerous complaints from customers.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email