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Locking out homeless
New Toters aim to cut off source of income
What the locked Toter looks like. - photo by Photo Contributed

Complaints against the homeless dumping trash out of Toters and littering neighborhood streets in search of recyclables is prompting the City of Manteca to launch a pilot program using locked residential Toters.

Some 100 blue Toters with locks will be distributed along Mission Ridge Drive and nearby streets — the worst hit neighborhood in Manteca when it comes to homeless shifting through brown and blue Toters and creating a mess. In many cases they contaminate the remaining recyclables in the blue Toters that do not have California redemption value with garbage from the brown Toters making it impossible for the city to recycle the materials.

Rexie LeStrange, who oversees Manteca’s solid waste operations, indicated the field test of the locked Toters will start Sept. 15. If the results are effective at eliminating the homeless from dumping Toter contents on residential streets, contaminating recyclables and forcing them to be buried at a landfill, plus eliminates pilfering of redeemable recyclables the city will then start phasing in the lockable Toters throughout Manteca. Existing Toters would be either sold to other agencies or ground up and recycled.

LeStrange said the pilot program is being driven by a surge in complaints from residents who say the homeless scavenging through their Toters are littering streets with debris. LeStrange said such complaints have shot up about 90 percent in the past year at about the same time the number of homeless people in Manteca increased.

She said residents often call up the city and accuse truck drivers of making the mess which she says isn’t the case.

“It has gotten so bad that some residents report that they have chased off homeless who have gotten into their backyards to go through Toters,” LeStrange said.

She said some frustrated residents have taken to taping scrawled messages on top of their Toters telling the homeless in no uncertain terms to leave the Toters alone.

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Upwards of $1.2M could be taken from blue Toters yearly in redeemable recyclables

LeStrange noted messes left from homeless scavenging through Toters is a problem all over Manteca. It is the worst, though, along Mission Ridge Drive lined with homes built in the 1990s. The reason for that is attributed to a  park where some homeless sleep that backs up to a 120 Bypass sound wall and a number of homeless encampments that have popped up in and around the 120 Bypass corridor.

The reason the homeless go through Toters is in a search for money in the form of containers for commodities such as soft drinks, energy drinks, water, and juices that have California redemption value of a nickel apiece.

LeStrange noted that if a Manteca household tossed out 20 such containers a week — the equivalent of three six packs of soda and two juice bottles — it represents $1 in redeemable value. Multiply that by Manteca’s households and it represents $24,000 a week of potential money for the homeless or $1,248,000 a year. And that figure is likely on the low side, LeStrange noted.

Of course, not all recyclables are tossed in Toters.

But even so the city has noticed a major decline in revenue it gets back from the firm it sends its recyclables to in the form of a partial credit from the California redemption plan. Although the city only receives a fraction of each nickel paid at the point of purchase, it used to receive a check each year for $160,000. That amount has been halved to $80,000 in recent years due to Toter pilfering.

LeStrange said the new Toters will work only if residents remember to lock them before placing them at curbside.

They do not need to be unlocked, however, for city crews to dump them into refuse trucks.

The system works on gravity. When the Toter is lifted up and is turned around 180 degrees, the lid opens and the recyclables fall out.

LeStrange said that it is extremely hard for one person to do when a Toter is loaded. They can turn it sideways and such but can’t get the lid to open.

She added more and more homeless are going through the brown garbage Toters as well in search of wayward recyclables and tossed food.

LeStrange noted Manteca Police do respond to Toter pilfering/littering calls but they are a low priority.

Police Chief Nick Obligacion wants to make it illegal for anyone to rummage through Toters as part of his strategy of cracking down on Manteca’s growing homeless problem.

At any rate, the courts have handed down decisions that make it clear once items are placed in garbage cans and placed in a municipal right-of-way for collection they become the property of that particular city.

Locked Toters could also help cut down on identity theft. Rummaging through Toters is still the main source of ID theft for criminals operating in the Manteca area.