Ben Cantu spent nearly three decades as a cog in Manteca’s municipal government.
As a planner, he often dealt with people who believed government moves too slow even if it has no choice due to regulations and laws that govern how cities operate.
Today after two years as Manteca’s mayor Cantu repeatedly has expressed his frustration with what he sees as the city’s lack of nimbleness in executing endeavors. And no subject draws his ire more than Manteca’s efforts to step up how it addresses homeless issues.
Cantu on Tuesday, before the council again made getting a homeless navigation center in place as a high priority for the budget year starting July 1, voiced his frustration at what he sees as a lack of progress.
“Frankly I don’t think we’ve been successful,” Cantu said after City Manager Miranda Lutzow updated the council on the status of current fiscal year goals that included the navigation center.
Cantu argued that no progress had been made.
Council members Jose Nuño and Gary Singh disagreed.
They pointed to the warming center that is now in place as well as their decision last month to drop the Qualex site for a navigation center as being too problematic and costly. The council instead directed staff to pursue 8.04 acres off of Carnegie Court in the Manteca Industrial Park that is also a former RDA property like Qualex.
The council sees it as a less expensive option that gives them better control as it is vacant land. They also want to pursue some type of affordable housing on the portion of the parcel along South Main Street.
Cantu routinely drives around Manteca to check on how well the city is dealing with homeless issues such as at Library Park. He points out the city can’t legally address the root of homeless issues that frustrated residents until they get a navigation center in place that has enough overnight beds to accommodate 218 homeless. That’s the number of homeless the last point-in-time count in 2019 indicated there were in Manteca.
If such a facility were in place and there were empty beds but the homeless opted not to use them, the city would have a green light to fully enforce anti-camping rules for all public areas and possibly even ban sleeping on sidewalks.
But getting to the point the city can do that is going to be a major challenge.
*The city must ultimately convince the state to allow Manteca to buy the 8.04 acres.
*Manteca needs to come up with money to purchase the land at market value that was set at $2.4 million in early 2020. That means dipping into reserves unless they can secure a grant to offset some or all of the cost.
*Another $1.6 million is estimated to prep the site and to place required structures. In this case the most cost effective options are Sprung Structures that other cities such as Fresno, Los Angeles, and Seattle are using for homeless initiatives. Tracy has been approved funding to buy one as well.
*Ongoing funding would be needed to operate the shelter and coordinate programs designed to get the homeless off the streets and be self-sufficient. A glimpse at what that may cost is provided by the four month contract the city has with the Turlock Gospel Mission to run the current warming center. The cost is $180,000 put that includes leasing the tent. It is likely that running a program will have an annual cost pushing or in excess of $200,000.
*Staff and council have expressed the hope government grants or a non-profit could be formed by the community to raise money and operate the navigation center. However, if those options don’t materialize the city would have to fund the day-to-day operations.
*Once a navigation center with 218 drop-in beds opens, Manteca Police would likely need a dedicated and constant presence between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. to enforce anti-camping laws and make homeless move on if they refuse to go to the shelter.
*There is not anyone at city hall dedicated to not only pursuing the homeless navigation but also another high council priority — coordinating Manteca’s homeless response with the county and surrounding jurisdictions.
While the city has two dedicated community resource officers that deal with homeless issues throughout the week, they are frontline personnel.
The bottom line is there are a lot of hoops to jump through and it will be costly for Manteca to make any headway in either reducing homeless issues or making sure they don’t get worse.
Singh in the past has noted that not working toward a navigation center — the best hope the city has to address the vexing homeless problems — could be even more expensive for the city and the community.
The city is already spending more than $530,000 annually between salaries and benefits for the two community resource officers and the warming center. The parks department dedicates a large share of their crew time to cleaning up homeless issues in parks and elsewhere.
Then there is the costs incurred when police, fire, and ambulance crews respond to homeless calls ranging from medical emergencies to crime-related issues.
The real cost for the city could be approaching $1 million annually.
Singh has also noted losses to the private sector are piling up as well. They run the gamut from day-to-day cleaning to removing human waste and debris, damage repair, thefts, and damage caused by warming fires that get out of control to the loss of business that the presence of homeless around businesses can create. There is also the concern that blight could set in around the areas homeless populate driving out businesses and reducing property values.
The navigation center goal for the budget year starting July 1 is somewhat modest, doable, and still ambitious.
It is to have a navigation center designed and construction started.
That is doable with a Sprung Structure as long as the city can buy the 8.04 acres and then come up with the funds for the land and the structures along with related improvements.
Since it is a budget year goal that gives the city just over 17 months to have the first stages of a navigation center going up before the next fiscal year ends June 30, 2022.
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