Put them on a bus and send them to Stockton.
Oh – they don’t have any money? Why don’t we see if the city can set aside $50,000 to pay for the bus tickets necessary to facilitate such a migration.
That was the line of thinking of Tracy Mayor Robert Rickman recently – the same Robert Rickman that is running to replace the termed-out seat of Bob Elliot for the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.
That district, by the way, includes a portion of Manteca that’s south of Yosemite Avenue.
Now, while I agree with Rickman’s sentiment expressed during his original comments during a public meeting that because of the cold temperatures we ought to do something for the unsheltered who are having to endure below-freezing conditions, the idea of putting people on the bus and sending them to Stockton so they can “stay warm” is laughable.
Let us unpack this a little bit, shall we?
One of the knocks on the City of Manteca’s attempt at addressing the rising issue of homelessness in the community – spurred on by factors such as overloaded behavioral health and substance abuse services and a lack of shelter facilities – was that it would become a magnet for other cities that wanted a quick, easy out for their issues.
“Nobody would actually do that,” I foolishly thought, believing that elected officials in San Joaquin County would actually work together to address an issue that isn’t confined to any singular community and thus must be collaboratively addressed.
Enter Robert Rickman.
The comments made publicly about how to help the homeless in Tracy – by dumping them completely onto the City of Stockton without even so much as a phone call – showed a tremendous disconnect from the continuity of local government and a grasp of the issues necessary for somebody that wants to oversee things like behavioral health and the county’s substance abuse programs.
For starters, his claim that Stockton has a new homeless shelter that has plenty of space for the people in question just doesn’t hold any water. If that were true, then why are people like Ralph Lee White talk about converting the unused horse stables at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds into makeshift living quarters? White refined this strategy as recently as a week ago in his run for Stockton Mayor, so if that’s being floated as a possible way to address the issue, doesn’t that say something about the state of shelter beds in the county’s largest city?
Even his attempts at clarifying the comments fell completely flat.
In trying to explain what he was actually saying, Rickman specified that because Stockton is the San Joaquin County seat, that’s where all of the services are located for people who find themselves mired in mental health and substance abuse issues.
But somebody with substance abuse issues that is seeking treatment that was brought to Downtown Stockton would have to get back onto a bus and go out to Recovery House in French Camp near the county’s hospital and jail complex off Matthews Road. Surely somebody who wants to oversee these programs knows where the county’s substance abuse treatment facility is, right?
What is so frustrating about this is that Rickman had an example in his own backyard of how to handle this issue – in Manteca. The city has worked tirelessly to try and create shelter space in its own community – first offering up a city-owned building to a faith-based non-profit for its use, and when that fell through, working to find a solution rather than throwing up their hands.
I won’t go so far as to say that the tent in the parking lot of the Qualex building is a permanent solution – it’s not. There are issues that need to be addressed, and the long-term viability of such an undertaking has not yet been established. But when facing months of weather where the mercury can dip below freezing, the city stepped up and did something and people are benefitting from it now.
How did they get to that point?
By working to address the problem. Through a number of homeless summits where the community could come and voice their concerns and hear from the same county programs that Rickman is touting. By hiring people like Manteca Police Community Resource Officer Mike Kelly to develop real-time intel about the problem, address it with law enforcement resources when necessary, and work to get people the help that they need when they’re ready to receive it.
And that’s the clincher in this whole argument and what I think is so glaring about Rickman’s comments – anybody who has ever worked with the homeless, or the addicted, or the at-risk population knows that people can’t be forced to do something that they don’t want to do. By putting somebody on a bus in Tracy and moving them closer to the resources, they aren’t upping the probability that they’ll take advantage of those resources.
After all, there are buses that run from Tracy to Stockton every day, and if this were the solution then those homeless in Tracy would have already been on them.
If Tracy has $50,000 to put towards this issue, then maybe they need to invest it in doing something in their own community. Maybe they need to start having forums, and freeing money in the budget to hire people like Mike Kelly that actually build relationships with the populations they’re seeking to transform. The salary of Kelly and his partner and the cost of money invested in addressing the issue aside that is close to $300,000 a year, it cost Manteca less than $50,000 to get the tent up and running to give people a real place that they can go and get the help they need for the time being – and stay warm in the process.
But putting them on a bus and sending them to Stockton?
That’s the lazy way out.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.