Drive by the Lincoln Park picnic shelter — day or night — and you will see homeless gathered at the tables. Sometimes they will have a BBQ fire going to cook a meal or stay warm.
You may also see the homeless sitting in front of convenience stores or gathering behind the gazebo stage at Library Park during the day.
Except for a few who will sleep in doorways, in front of stores or small illegal encampments along the 120 Bypass, when it is time to go to sleep they become invisible. Those who work with the homeless — non-profit volunteers and Manteca Police officers — will tell you most homeless prefer it that way. They don’t want to draw attention to themselves.
That is why getting an exact grasp on what Manteca is dealing with can be a challenge.
Point-in-time counts are conducted countywide every two years primarily as a way to glean verifiable numbers government agencies can use to obtain a share of what available federal funds there are to help pay for homeless-related services such as housing. It also provides information that can help cities like Manteca to further adjust efforts in a bid to get homeless off the streets.
It also may provide pivotal information that could set the stage for what could be Manteca’s next step toward addressing homeless issues now that at least three council members — including Mayor Ben Cantu — have gone on record saying they believe a more robust resource/day center is needed to address ongoing issues.
The next point-in-time count to conduct a census of unsheltered homeless in Manteca is set for Thursday, Jan. 24. Volunteers are meeting at 5:30 a.m. at the Manteca Police Department, 1001 W. Center St. prior to canvassing the city.
Volunteers interested in helping are asked to contact Adam Cheshire at 209-468-3399 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
The official point-in-time counts have shown a steady climb in unsheltered homeless in Manteca since 2011 when there were 23 counted. The number rose to 56 in 2015 and 78 in 2017. Those in non-profits that work with the homeless believe the number is significantly higher given the difficulty in tracking down the homeless.
During the first two weeks of October 2018 collaborating Manteca agencies — HOPE Ministries shelter and outreach programs and Manteca Gospel Rescue Mission — recorded 181 unduplicated unsheltered homeless individuals in Manteca that were seen through street outreach efforts.
Manteca Police Chief
notes city is following
Several weeks ago Manteca Police rousted illegal campers that happened to be homeless that had pitched tents in the Food-4-Less center parking lot near Del Taco and who were bedding down along storefronts.
That has prompted some homeless — as well as those advocating for them that aren’t involved in Manteca-based efforts to help the homeless — to accuse the city of making unconstitutional moves in light of a Ninth District court decision involving a case out of Idaho
Manteca Police Chief Jodie Estarziau noted the city isn’t breaking laws or defying court rulings given unlike in the Idaho case the city has not outlawed sleeping per se on public property.
Anyone is allowed to do just that from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on public property such as sidewalks as long as they don’t violate laws that apply to everyone such as park closures, allowing room for passage on sidewalks that meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, trespass into secured fenced areas, or lay down in a street as a few examples.
Those rousted from the Food-4-Less shopping center were on private property and were in violation of a city law that bans such camping except for certain conditions that, if they are met, the police chief has the authority to issue permits.
The no camping ordnance applies to privately owned farm property within the city limits as well regardless of fencing or claims farmers gave them permission to do so.
The Manteca rules were not fashioned in a legal vacuum nor were the Manteca Police protocols for interacting with the homeless.
Homeless lawsuit &
they crafted the rules
The man who had the most to do with shaping Manteca’s current response to homeless issues isn’t on the municipal payroll.
It’s 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 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 was 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 the attained 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 insisted on.
Settlement paid $47,000
to homeless &
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.
“It (the lawsuit) was a blessing,” said Estarziau as it gave the city and the police a clear understanding of what could legally be done.
The deployment of
two officers to work
with homeless issues
The lawsuit led to the city’s strategy of assigning two police officers to work with the homeless trying to connect them with non-profits and other services to get them off the streets or to reunite them with families.
Those officers also work on addressing crime that the homeless may commit while following the mantra that “being homeless is not a crime.”
In 2018, police officers Mike Kelly and Matt Phillips were successful at getting 40 homeless individuals into rehab programs, endeavors that help them secure jobs and housing or reunited them with family willing to accept them into their homes. Since the Manteca effort started, 240 individuals have gotten off the streets.
Estarziau stressed while most are success stories, some have ended back up on the streets.
The Manteca Police’s seven-day-a-week homeless effort wedded with non-profits and forming a collaborative to take a holistic approach to solving homeless issues is being emulated by other cities in the county — Lodi, Stockton, and Tracy — as well as jurisdictions elsewhere.
“The building of relationships and trust are key to getting those willing to do so to get off the streets,” the police chief said. “Officers Kelly and Phillips do a great job.”
Besides the two officers working with the homeless daily there are monthly collaboration sessions with agencies, non-profits, and churches that have homeless services. There is also monthly coordinated outreach efforts involving all of the resources as well as portable showers provided once a week at different church locations.
Estarziau said the relationship police have developed with the homeless has led to a changes in homeless patterns.
The homeless that gather during the day at Library Park, for example, do so for the most part west of the gazebo and away from the playground and areas that get heavier use during the day.
“Just like everyone else they have a right to be in the park,” Estarziau said.
An effort is underway to possibly establish meals for homeless one or two days a week with the site being rotated.
Estarziau hopes people that want to help will refrain from simply dropping off items around town. She suggested they assist agencies already helping the homeless so those efforts can become even more effective.
She pointed to the Hope Chest operated by the Hospice of San Joaquin on South Main Street as a prime example. The Hope Chest, at no charge, will help clothe the homeless that need items through a card referral program that the two officers use.
If they see a homeless person in need of shoes, pants or some other items of clothing they will give that individual a card referencing their need to take to the thrift store.
“That way they can get what they need and fits,” Estarziau said.
Those who may take a bunch of used clothes that are perhaps size 6 and leave them where homeless gather most of the time see their efforts doing little if any good.
“If they are all size 6 there may not be anyone that can wear them and if someone can they’ll most likely just need one item of clothing,” Estarziau.
The rest either end up either getting ruined by the elements and/or tossed around creating a trash problem that needs to be cleaned. By dropping them off at the Hope Chest thrift store, the homeless can get what they need and the rest won’t go to waste.
Besides the challenge of building relationships so they can get a number of homeless off the street, the police chief said people need to keep in mind there are some of homeless that don’t want off the street.
“They make it clear that they are fine with the lifestyle,” Estarziau said.