No one wants homeless living along the 120 Bypass.
While most zero in on the unsightly mess, law enforcement and the fire department have additional worries.
The main concerns of public safety officials have been driven home in three separate events over the last 35 days.
*The grass fire late Thursday Yosemite Avenue burned areas where the homeless typically set up illegal makeshift shelters.
*A homeless man bicycling westbound along the shoulder between Airport Way and the Yosemite exit slowed down and backed up early Saturday afternoon traffic.
*A homeless man crossing the 120 Bypass beneath the Main Street overcrossing was struck and killed by a garbage truck. Homeless encampments routinely pop up within the interchanges along the freeway.
So why don’t authorities simply clear out illegal encampments as soon as they pop up along the freeway right of way?
The 9th District Court in various rulings over the years has established a legal standard that jurisdictions seeking to clear-out illegal encampments must follow including posting advance notices of the pending removal giving the homeless a number of days to clear out.
Then there is the issue of citing homeless for illegal encampments that Manteca does do. For the most part it isn’t effective as the homeless simply settle down elsewhere. Then there is the court mandate that you can’t simply roust the homeless and move them along unless a city has beds available in a shelter and the individuals in question refuse to access them.
It is why focusing on efforts to get the homeless off the streets by providing services that can eventually led to them securing employment and ultimately support and shelter themselves is the only option.
Homeless Summit Tuesday
features two sessions
Citizens have an opportunity to find out what is being done and ask questions of city officials during a live online Homeless Summit featuring two sessions on Tuesday, April 27, at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. via Zoom.
Officials from several city departments will be present to answer questions. There will also have representatives from homeless outreach organizations on hand to talk about what they are doing to address the ongoing and growing homeless problem.
In a news release, the City of Manteca stated “that it's important for the public to have a thorough understanding of the efforts we take to deal with this ongoing issue. Several City Departments address this problem daily along with numerous private entities. The City's approach to this issue involves much more than just the Police Department's role and we'd like to take a few moments to explain what we do and touch on some of our future goals.”
The addresses to participate are:
*11 a.m.: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89066670867
*6 p.m.: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82304552357
Thursday’s fire underscored the concerns of Interim Fire Chief Dave Marques.
Besides camping within the footprint of interchanges and among shrubs along the right-of-way of flatter sections of the 120 Bypass, a number of homeless take advantage of the visual cover provided where the freeway is built up to clear under crossings.
The most egregious area is where the freeway east of Main Street starts climbing to create steep embankments. While both sides have encampments and pose danger in the event of grass fires that have happened upwards of two dozen times during annual dry seasons, the south side is the most dangerous area.
Grass fires pose safety
issues for homeless
That’s because the steep embankment and nearby sound walls create a narrow gully. The seven-foot plus sound walls are virtually impossible to scale as is much of the embankment.
“If a grass fire spreads in that area it has the potential of blocking their exit,” Marques indicated earlier this week.
Last year such a fire did occur on the south side of the freeway east of Moffat Boulevard where the sound wall is significantly lower than behind the Juniper, Tesoro and Paseo Villas apartment complexes.
The homeless were evacuated without incident.
A grass fire on a windy day could have serious consequences.
“Serious wildfires are no longer something you don’t see in urban areas,” Marques.
Back in June 2008 a grass fire that started along Interstate 5 in north Stockton quickly spread and gutted 32 homes.
Caltrans repeatedly cleans out the areas every few months. They have even erected locked cyclone gates to impede access from surface streets. Those fences are routinely cut.
The state has gone as far as placing K-rail near Van Ryn Avenue to block access to the freeway right-of-way behind Paseo Villas after the homeless started driving vehicles into the area. The homeless have also managed to breach that barrier.
Caltrans also mows down the weeds in accessible areas every spring in a bid to reduce the grass fire hazard.
Another concern has to do with the collisions that have become routine on the eastbound Bypass as it nears the Highway 99 interchange. Twice in such accidents during the past 10 years vehicles have left the freeway and ended up in the area where the homeless cap.
When 120 Bypass camps
area cleared out it shifts
problem to other areas
Over the years when the areas are cleared out, the homeless little by little will start returning.
But before they do homeless encampments throughout Manteca increase significantly creating issues elsewhere.
The endless cycle of clearing out illegal homeless encampments that require proceeding by rules imposed by the courts as well as other challenges can’t be address unless the city is able to step up efforts to make it possible for the homeless to get off the street. That is why the City Council is pursuing a homeless navigation center on 8.04 acres they are seeking to purchase on South Main Street.
Such a navigation center would not only have all services in one locale but it would have temporary shelter and possibly transitional housing as well.
The city, just like other jurisdictions, has no legal authority to force the homeless to access services or even use an emergency shelter. This is where the Manteca Police Department’s community resource officers come into play.
Their mission is to work with the homeless and build up trust while at the same time address quality of life issues the homeless created for city residents and businesses.
“It can take months working with someone before they are ready to take the step (to get off the street),” noted Manteca Police CRO Mike Kelly. “And there are some you are never going to get off the street.”
Manteca’s effort to cover homeless issues with an officer seven days a week has been hampered since one of the two positions is now vacant.
To conduct Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com