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Summit this Thursday focuses on Manteca’s homeless effort
Homeless summit
When homeless visit Library park now they tend to stay away from the playground equipment. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

Judging by the posting on various Facebook pages you would get the distinct impression Manteca is doing absolutely nothing to address homeless issues and allows the homeless to do whatever they please.

Social media claims that the city was treating the homeless like animals and criminals also helped deluge the city with hundreds of “hate” calls several years ago from as far away as Canada and New York City after Manteca launched its coordinated homeless effort. It forced the City Clerk’s office at the time to change the automated voice message you got when you called so the first prompt asked you to push one if you were calling about homeless issues.

 So which is it: Is Manteca completely ineffective in addressing homeless issues and coddling those on the streets or are they making headway?

You can decide on Thursday, June 21, when a Manteca homeless summit takes place between 9 and 11 a.m. at the Manteca Transit Center.

The community is being invited to see what is being done as well as to share their concerns.

Community Resource Officer Mike Kelly noted the day time meeting is needed as opposed to the evening to make sure all of the agencies involved in the effort to address homeless in Manteca from county mental health staff to His Way recovery program can be present to answer questions and discuss how things are going as well as to plan future efforts. 

The summit is taking place almost two years after the city launched its coordinated homeless effort. It involves spending in excess of $200,000 a year to fund two Manteca Police community resource officer positions to address homeless issues. The goal is three-fold:

uAddress criminal behavior involving the homeless.

uCoordinate with various non-profits and government agencies in a bid to get the homeless off the streets into programs to help them address substance abuse and reunite them with family members willing to take them in.

uTake proactive steps wherever possible to help steer people to serves to prevent them from becoming homeless and to implement measures working with businesses, city departments, and others to reduce the potential for homeless to create problems.

There is now seven days a week CRO coverage for homeless issues. Kelly works Monday through Thursday and Matt Phillips works Thursday through Sunday.

Kelly notes they are primarily on the street to enforce the laws and work on ways to reduce the problem. Given that police officers are essentially part social worker part para-legal to begin with, the effort stepped up the game when it comes to proactive measures to provide a daily contact working on homeless to convince them to get help.

So far more than 200 people have been taken off the streets of Manteca thanks to the program put in place by the City Council.

Kelly noted criminal behavior is constantly being addressed. As an example, the CROs are constantly writing citations for the pilfering of shopping carts that has helped reduce the number of carts being pushed around Manteca overflowing with items.

It should be noted police also cite the non-homeless as well for commandeering shopping carts when they happen to see them with them off of a store’s property. Most of the shopping carts abandoned around Manteca are by shoppers who pilfer them to transport purchases home and then they dump then they abandon them near their neighborhoods.

Senior Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP) volunteers play a key role in working with stores to retrieve abandoned shopping carts.

“They (the City Council) have been very supportive and committed to working on homeless problems,” Kelley said.

He noted that when staff only wanted one CRO, the council balked arguing a seven-day-a-week presence was needed to be effective addressing what they have characterized as the most pressing quality of life issue in Manteca.

Manteca’s effort has drawn attention from other cities up and down the West Coast that are struggling with homeless problems. Several cities in San Joaquin County are considering adopting similar programs. This past week representatives from Livermore where in Manteca to observe what the city is doing.

The relationships the CROs have developed with the homeless as well as enforcement of illegal activity have led to noticeable improvements to high profile areas such as Library Park and Wilson Park in downtown Manteca.

 As a result, parents are again taking their children to Library Park to use the playgrounds and water play feature.

Kelly said he will ask the homeless who hang around near the playground “if they had children and if they would want groups of adults” hanging around them when they were using playground equipment. Kelly said when it is put that way that most homeless understand the concern even though being in the park is not illegal for them — or anyone else — as long as they follow the rules.

The result are the homeless for the most part are staying away from gathering near the playgrounds, Instead, when they congregate at Library Park they will do so west and north of the gazebo more on the fringe away from other activity.

Both CROs noted the homeless will cooperate in a similar fashion when they are advised an event such as the weekly Tuesday farmers market is taking place in the summer. They aren’t asked to leave per se, but opt to not be intrusive.

“Homeless have rights just like everyone else,” Kelly said, adding they are human as well.

He also said businesses and others have rights to which is why the CROs work with all parties to come up with workable solutions.

You can find out more firsthand on Thursday or you can simply keep your nose buried in the virtual world of social media instead of interacting with or seeing and hearing what people in the real world are doing to address homeless needs and problems that the homeless create in Manteca.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email