Manteca’s elected leaders Tuesday declined to declare a shelter crisis in Manteca that would have allowed a coalition of local non-profits to seek one-time state money for the specific purpose of securing a more robust homeless resource center.
The 4-1 vote with Councilman Gary Singh dissenting doesn’t prevent the groups from seeking part of the $7.1 million the state has set aside for San Joaquin County through the Homeless Emergency Aid Program, (HEAP) to fund their existing outreach services for the homeless.
But without such a declaration the groups consisting of Manteca Gospel Rescue Mission, Community Medical Centers, Love INC, Inner City Action and HOPE Family Shelters cannot apply for funds for capital projects that encompass either buying an existing building, constructing a new building or a combination.
The non-profits made it clear after the council refused to declare a shelter emergency in Manteca that they would continue their efforts to try and step up homeless services in a bid to improve the quality of life for the unhoused as well as housed residents.
The group’s plan was to purchase an existing building that once housed a preschool near the Manteca DMV office to establish an expanded day center and respite center for the homes. It would also centralize resources for the homeless in one location. The plan would be for the center to only provide temporary shelter for the homeless on extremely cold nights or in the middle of a summer heat wave much like the city currently does at the Manteca Senior Center for those at risk from extreme weather.
The Manteca Gospel Rescue Mission has been operating a less intensive resource center at Yosemite and Fremont avenues with no issues for more than a year.
The plan for the proposed resource center included placing a pad where a donated medical office trailer could be placed to provide homeless medical services in Manteca for 24 hours a week instead of the current four hours. The site is also envisioned to accommodate portable shelters that are now in Manteca once a week on Thursdays at a more “permanent” location.
The council majority made it clear they supported a more robust resource center but had issues with what could happen down the road if Manteca were to declare that a shelter crisis exists in Manteca.
Those concerns included:
*Possibly not being able to “un-declare” the existence of a shelter crisis. Police Chief Jodie Estarziau who recommended against declaring a crisis citied a legal opinion the city obtained that argues given the crisis is being declared with a count of 88 unsheltered homeless, the city would have to demonstrate that number has dropped in the future to drop the crisis declaration. The police chief thought that would be too high of a threshold for the city to meet,
*With the shelter crisis declaration in place it could provide fodder for the courts — if a lawsuit is filed against the city — to strike down Manteca’s camping ordinance allowing the homeless and anyone else to sleep on public property when they please. The chief indicated counsel did not believe that was a possibility given court rulings to date have addressed circumstances that differ from Manteca’s ordinance that allows sleeping in public places except those that are specifically identified as being off limits between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The current ordinance passed muster in a legal settlement the city reached after being sued by three homeless men in a class action suit.
*The declaration of a shelter emergency would allow the city to suspend existing rules that may be an impediment to building homeless shelters and replacing them with the minimal standards for health and safety. The HEAP language addressing building standards applies specifically to the construction of homeless shelters on city owned property and not other housing.
In addition, Councilwoman Debby Moorhead was concerned committing money to a resource center per se would not create additional shelter to try and get the homeless to stop sleeping on the streets.
Singh had argued for using a sunset clause in a shelter emergency declaration to address council concerns.
He noted the opportunity for the local non-profits that have been working with the homeless to secure $1.4 million in one-time state funds to establish a more robust homeless resource center may not surface again.
Sing said by not declaring a shelter emergency would leave the organizations” high and dry” that the city is counting on to essentially do the grunt work to whittle away at homeless issues.
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