Homelessness has become an epidemic in California. It is estimated that California contains 30% of the United States homeless population. More concerning is how our share of the U.S. homeless population has escalated from 20% in a relatively short period of time. From San Francisco to Manteca, no municipality is immune to the impinging homeless problem.
As a retired firefighter and man of faith, I believe we must help the weakest in our community. Many of our homeless are women, children, and veterans who have fought for our Country. It is imperative we continue to seek solutions to find our homeless jobs, homes and care. We must also ensure that our businesses and residents are protected from those that would infringe on their quality of life or safety.
The City of Manteca has made considerable progress in helping our city’s homeless these past two years while continuing to protect our residents. Through the generous work of Manteca Community Resource Officers in combination with our local non-profits, the city has assisted more than 200 homeless. Many have found work or reunited with families, while others are getting much needed mental and rehabilitation support.
The homeless issue is fluid and regional. If Stockton decides to intensify its enforcement effort, their homeless community may move to Manteca. The San Joaquin County Homeless Task Force works with homeless service providers and cities to develop a core program that brings all resources together to maximize the effectiveness of current programs and explore new opportunities. Through collaboration, we can ensure other cities will not unintentionally burden Manteca.
While I applaud the efforts of the City of Manteca and San Joaquin County, no government program succeeds without partnership with our non-profit and faith-based organizations. Both city and county efforts rely heavily on their expertise, compassion and infrastructure. Organizations like Bread of Life ensure our homeless are fed, while groups like Love INC are assisting them with job opportunities, rehabilitation programs and mental health assistance.
Human dignity is a fundamental ingredient of the American experience, yet so is self-reliance. We must give a hand-up to those willing to accept it while not enabling those looking for a hand-out. As your representative, you can count on me to continue the tremendous work our current council has done, while looking for new ways to improve our efforts. I will work with the San Joaquin County Homeless Task Force to ensure we have used all the resources at our disposal and protect Manteca from homeless migration from neighboring cities.
The needs of our homeless are diverse. A one-size-fits-all solution will not solve the problem. The key to helping our homeless population is our non-profit and faith-based organizations. These organizations are as diverse as the needs of the homeless community. As your councilman, I will work hand-in-hand with these organizations and ensure they have the support needed to continue their success.
When a member of our community is hurting, we must rise up and assist them. Working together as a community we can help our homeless population and give them the dignity they deserve.
Let me answer the second part of the question first. Frankly I think the City has done a terrible job of managing the homeless situation. First they tried the hardball approach and got sued for breaching people’s civil rights; obviously someone did not fully analyze that course of action beforehand. In response to losing the lawsuit the City backed off from any type of enforcement. Then the City hired a Resource Officer to work with the homeless and basically move them along so they are less visible during business hours. Today, the homeless are still sleeping and gathering in Library Park and at adjacent business sites.
The Mayor’s response four years ago to my proposal that would create a homeless shelter of sorts was simply, it would never happen under his watch. I would now ask the question, how’s that working for us? The City has invested in two resource officers, who are doing a good job, and spent hundreds of thousands of municipal fund dollars “working” with the homeless with limited success.
As for the first part of the question, I do have a proposal for managing the homeless. My proposal is based on a humanitarian approach and working with the basic needs of humans; for the homeless are no less human and have simple needs and a basic instinct to survive. There is no disputing that the homeless as a population include people with a variety of disorders and reasons and decisions for their current condition or lifestyle; and I acknowledge that some cannot be helped or want to be helped. As a practicing Christian, however, I would not feel worthy of my beliefs each week if I did not offer some sort of productive assistance.
My proposal for managing the homeless situation will assist the majority of the homeless, involves bringing together the various churches (which are already providing great assistance), some nonprofits, and the City in the development and management of a Resource Center for the homeless. I would prefer to title the facility a Resource Center rather than a “homeless shelter” because it will be much more than just a shelter. The Resource Center would include TEMPORARY indoor sleeping cots, LIMITED food service, restrooms, showers, clothing closet, a laundry room, and will include offices for County health and social services, jobs training, counseling, etc.; and would include limited jobs opportunity, such as work crews to weed our roadways, paint buildings, etc. The Resource Center would be a partnership of the City, the County, local churches, local nonprofits, residents, business people, and State and Federal agencies.
“Downtown” has been complaining to city hall frequently about the homeless and their “destructive and unhealthy and disrespectful tendencies” yet the City Council continues their hands-off approach to the problem. As Mayor I plan to work with Council to respond to the community’s concerns, to develop a Resource Center, and to work with legal staff to strengthen our ability to cite the homeless when possible.
Please contact me at cantu4mayor.com, on Facebook at “Ben Cantu for Manteca Mayor,” and on Twitter @bcantu1951.
Homelessness is an issue throughout our country from Washington DC, to Portland, Oregon to Kansas City, Missouri; and unfortunately, it appears to be a growing problem that has no simple solution.
California, with its great weather, just seems to draw the homeless, whether it be on along California Highways, in uninhabited homes and commercial buildings, parks or any other place they can congregate. I’ve said many times being homeless is not a crime, but I expect that those in that situation to abide by the same set of rules that honest citizens must live by so everyone can have a positive quality of life.
In my humble opinion, many of the problems we see today stem from passage of Prop 47 which required the early release of prisoners from over-crowded prisons. Incarcerated individuals released from prison are too often quickly back on the streets committing petty crimes to feed their substance abuse habit. People who are homeless may also have other conditions such as physical or mental health issues. Some will seek help while others voice their sentiments loud and clear that they want to be left alone and to “get out of my face”. These are the cases that require the majority of our police services. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that this is a breaking point for many and they’ve had enough.
Manteca has had its share of homeless criminal activity - stealing from local businesses, physical altercations, public drunkenness and drug abuse. These crimes have been reported to our local police department; and on one recent call, individuals were arrested for outstanding warrants.
Yet, more than 200 people have been taken off the street – many reunited with family. Some who were one step away from being homeless were given the necessary support needed to improve their lives while others were provided services form mental health professionals.
Kudos to Officer Mike Kelly who has been an outstanding asset to the city of Manteca and other communities in the county in addressing the homeless issue. I can’t tell you how many calls our Police Department has received asking about our success and what we’ve done here to reduce our homeless population.
Today, we are working with our local San Joaquin County District Attorney to eliminate the five worst criminal offenders in our city. Once this is done, we will work on the next five until we reduce the criminal offenders to a manageable number. It is believed that once we began to remove these individuals, criminal activity amongst the homeless population will vastly decrease.
In terms of our park’s system, homeless people can legally gather in the parks but cannot stay overnight or set up encampments. The city has established times which individuals cannot be in the park usually from 11 pm to 6 am to deter criminal activity. The city is carefully monitoring the homeless situation but they also have rights. However, honest, law-abiding citizens and taxpayers must always come first.
As an elected official, it is our responsibility to address all anti-social or criminal activity with responsible force - removing individuals from parks during unauthorized hours, jailing those who are committing crimes while helping with compassion those who truly need assistance.
It is NOT the city’s responsibility to build a shelter but to pass laws that protect our residents. We must continue to collaborate with our local law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office to protect Manteca residents, and work with private businesses, churches and non-profit organizations to develop long-term and sustainable solutions to the homeless problem so all our residents feel safe.
The homeless situation in Manteca is definitely a problem we face like many other cities in California. As a councilmember, I believe we have made progress by fully funding 2 Community Resource Officers (CRO’s) which are tasked with policing and providing resources to assist with the needs of our homeless in finding permanent housing and becoming financially self-sufficient. There is one CRO on duty 7 days a week, and one day where there are two officers on the street to work on special projects in our community.
What does “Community Outreach Services” actually mean?
Clean up and eviction of illegal camping areas within our city limits.
Enforce all laws forbidding sleeping in our parks from dusk to 6:00 am.
Making sure those who sleep in public areas during allowed times of 11pm to 6am are awake and take down their tents and temporary structures.
The CRO’s then patrol our city making contact with homeless individuals and asking if they need any assistance with medical issues and mental health services which may include transportation to behavioral health services at county facilities.
The CRO’s have a vast list of resources such as emergency shelters, emergency food, employment, mobile shower locations, residential programs for substance abuse and faith-based programs.
Homeless issues also may result in enforcement for trespassing on private property or any other crimes reported by citizens. The residents of Manteca have a generous nature but we need to educate folks not to give money to panhandlers but rather to faith-based organizations or recognized non-profits who have programs to assist homeless individuals and families.
I would like to see a day resource center managed by a local non-profit or faith-based organization so homeless individuals can come during set business hours only for resources to find employment and permanent housing on their own.
Local government should only be one component to combat homelessness, we can offer them resources and assistance but at some point, they need to decide on their own if they truly want to change their living situation. I know homelessness is a problem that affects the quality of life of Manteca residents. We have made great strides in getting over 200 people off the streets and we are working hard to help the truly needy and those who want help while acting against those who break our laws.
Homeless individuals in Manteca seem to be increasing on a weekly basis, they are more visible on the streets and in fast food restaurants. It’s common to now see public restrooms closed off, not in service or needing a coin to use. I often wonder what the solution is and the solution starts with understanding the problem. That’s when I decided to actually talk to some of these individuals. That is when I learned that there are various situations that can bring someone to homelessness.
One, there are those who need help and are seeking assistance from non-profits and churches. They truly are looking for solutions to better themselves and their family. A couple of months ago I visited a food pantry hosted at a church and I saw families and individuals seeking food, clothing, medicine and housing. The basics to have stability in their lives.
Second, there are those that suffer with mental health. You can see them talking to themselves, making hand gestures in the sky and just mentally not present. These individuals need medical help for their needs but often refuse the assistance and no one can force them to seek services.
Third, there are those that are Veterans that for one reason or another cannot assimilate back to civilian life. I recall from my time served in the US Army Reserve, everything is very strict, deliberate and purposeful. From the beginning of the day; waking up, exercising, training to the end of the day chow time, cleaning gear, going to sleep, it was a repetitive pattern that kept us “squared away”.
And fourth, those who are choosing this lifestyle and do not want to follow rules and make their “Hustle”. I was able to interview a former homeless individual, living on the streets earlier this year at the Manteca Street Fair. They explained to me that they chose the easy way of making money, not needing to listen to others and being involved in illegal activities to fuel their addictions. It was not until the person suffered an overdose of heroin, a near death incident for the second time that he realized he needed to change. He realized that even though he was no longer able to make the “quick money” he at least was going to make some “little honest money”. He went into rehab, got on his feet, clean from drugs and now helps other individuals get out of the that lifestyle.
Manteca is taking steps to address our homeless issue. We have hired two Community Resource Officers focusing on helping homeless individuals and they have proven to be successful so far. They have helped over 200 individuals with various items from connecting them with family members to getting them the social services they need. But that is only one effort that our city has done and more is needed.
That is why partnering up with the County of San Joaquin and being involved with the Homeless Task Force is important. If we can tap into the $4.4 million funding that was awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to the County and City of Stockton then we can make full strides in our city. I plan to be involved in attending the Homeless Task Force meetings hosted by the County to make sure that the City of Manteca is present and ready to work towards a permanent solution to address homelessness in our city and the San Joaquin Valley region.
Chris Silva did not submit a response to this week’s question.