If you go by what is on Facebook, Mike Kelly doesn’t do anything as the City of Manteca’s Community Resource Officer.
He’s only there for “publicity” according to one commenter in a community group – there to show his smiling face when the cameras are around and then return to whatever job it is that he does for the Manteca Police Department when the media isn’t around.
But if you spend some time asking the homeless of Manteca who he is, it’s apparent that Kelly might be the one person in town that knows more about the trials and tribulations faced by people on the street than anybody else working to solve the problem.
Since July, Kelly – who was previously the Manteca Police Department’s booking officer – has been going out four days a week to roust the homeless from their makeshift camps when their legal sleeping window expires and offering help and resources to anybody who is willing to take them.
While the groups that provide the pamphlets that he distributes are the front lines of homelessness, Kelly represents the trench warfare – working to provide the necessary information to the people who need it most while at the same time protecting the public interest and keeping the peace as the city’s de facto homeless liaison.
Here’s a typical Thursday for Kelly – who began working with the homeless in Manteca long before the Manteca City Council tapped him to get a handle on the situation that been driving residents and business owners crazy for months:
u5 a.m. – Kelly arrives at the Manteca Police Department with his drug dog Bella to prepare for his shift – warming up his car and straightening out his uniform as he gets ready to head out onto the street and make the first of morning contacts in places that have become hotspots for homeless activity.
u5:25 a.m. – Kelly holds the door open for an elderly woman as he walks into Starbucks on South Union Road – purchasing a jug of hot coffee for some of the homeless that he occasionally does things for out of his own pocket when they’ve worked well with him for an entire week’s worth of shifts.
u5:45 a.m. – Kelly heads over to Library Park – and a portion of the building that has become a popular spot with the homeless during bad weather because of the overhangs – to wake up those who will soon be in violation of the city’s no camping ordinance. With a zeal that’s reserved for people who have been awake for hours, Kelly rounds the corner of the library and greets a group that’s already awake – reminding them that it’s time to pack up and move – as he talks to a few of them about picking up all their trash when they move over to the gazebo in the park where they will spend most their day. Kelly is friendly and he’s fair as he does the job that he was assigned to do, and everybody he comes across here seems to know who he is – and thanks him when the tells them that he has coffee for them if they pick everything up like they’re supposed to.
For the next 30 minutes, Kelly chats with the people he has woken up while at the same time making sure that as they pack up what they have – their tents and their blankets and their tarps and their belongings – that they don’t leave any trash behind that will affect the rest of the patrons of the library. Once everything is done, he heads over to the gazebo at Library Park and offers up the coffee he promised earlier in the week – getting a round of thank yous from those who are thrilled to have a hot cup between their cold hands in the 45-degree morning air.
u6:22 a.m. – “This is absolutely unacceptable.” When searching for “Mike” – one of the people he works with that continuously gives him problems – he discovers that both him and another homeless man have shored up in the entryway of a business located at 331 W. Yosemite Avenue right in the heart of downtown. He wastes no time in telling him that he’s breaking multiple laws by doing this – from trespassing on private property to stealing power after he discovers that he ran an extension cord from the power box in the planter to run a laptop that is found in the makeshift camp. Kelly gives him 10 minutes to pack up everything – including the air mattresses he has hanging over his cart to block the wind and the rain – and be on his way or he will cite him for all his infractions.
u6:41 a.m. – Receives a call about a homeless man camped near a preschool on Northgate Drive. When he arrives, the man is already packing up after a Manteca Police patrol unit had already responded, but Kelly stops to talk to the man anyway – offering to get him places in a drug treatment program if it’s something that he’s interested in. The young man – who knows Kelly from multiple run-ins before – declines, but not before taking a cup of coffee from him and his card and says that it’s something that he’ll think about.
u7:20 a.m. – Checks a cluster of private businesses on North Main Street where he has received calls from property owners in the past about people camping and leaving their garbage. There is nobody there now, but remnants of their previous stay are visible everywhere, and a business owner comes out to chat and tells him about people defecating in the flower box.
u7:31 a.m. – Receives a call about a homeless man “hustling children for money” and finds a man who fits the description walking along Yosemite Avenue. Stops to talk to him and finds out that he was just asking kids for change so he could buy a cup of coffee, so he gives him one and begins chatting with him about his situation – finding out that he drinks every day, and has been on the street for a while. Kelly says he knows him from his younger days, and offers to get him into a program if it’s something that he feels could benefit him – providing him with a cup of coffee, his card and a pamphlet with services in San Joaquin County that might be able to help him. The man moves along.
u8:31 a.m. – Knocks on the door of an RV in the parking lot of the Grocery Outlet. “When are you going to get into that program?” Kelly asks the occupant, apparently a man with a heroin problem. “You know that when you die it’s going to be too late, right?” Kelly stops and talks with both men inside for about 10 minutes before telling them that they can’t be in the parking lot because it’s private property and they need to move along.
u9:02 a.m. – Gets a phone call that he’s expected to testify in court in a case against Robert Schucknecht – the man with the cart who set-up temporary shop alongside the sidewalk on the McDonald’s on East Yosemite Ave. and eventually filed a lawsuit along with other homeless individuals from town against the city. Schucknecht was set to appear on a variety of charges stemming from jaywalking to open container violations – eight Manteca Police Officers were present to testify in each of the cases – but Schucknecht failed to appear and he was convicted in absentia for the jaywalking violation while the rest of the citations were held over. The judge informs the officers as they leave that there is an outstanding arrest warrant for Mr. Schucknecht.
u9:23 a.m. – Receives a phone call from Manteca Fire Station No. 2 about a woman who was in an abusive relationship that is trying to get placed in a shelter. Kelly arrives to discover that the woman, who is traveling a 3-year-old daughter and 11-month-old son, is from Bakersfield had fled a bad situation with the father of her children, and claims that she’s being followed. He makes some phone calls and gets her a placement in a local battered woman’s shelter within 30 minutes. He then escorts her back to her motel room (she stayed in Manteca Wednesday night) so she can get her things and be taken out to the facility. From the moment Kelly arrived to the fire station to the moment he says his final goodbyes at the shelter, less than 90 minutes has passed.
“I just look at these people like they’re just that – people – and I do my best not judge their circumstances or the things that may have happened to get them in this position,” Kelly said. “Everybody deserves an opportunity but at the same time it’s a community so we need to make sure that these individuals aren’t affecting the lives of anybody else either. Sometimes that’s hard to balance, but it’s something that I try my best to do.”
In the six months that he’s been at the job, Kelly said that he has had between 43 and 44 people placed in some sort of facility or program and taken off of the streets for at least a period of time – some back to family, others into drug and alcohol treatment programs and yet others into metal health centers where they can get the treatment that they deserve.
Kelly knows that recidivism rates are high for people with substance abuse and mental issues, but despite seeing some of the same faces coming back from time-to-time, says that he chooses to focus on the success stories of the people who found a reason to turn things around and took advantage of the opportunities that are provided to them.
And he does what he can to make sure those opportunities are accessible.
In addition to the business cards that he hands out to nearly everybody he sees – the phone number to his desk is forwarded to his work cell phone so he’s accessible almost any moment that he’s on shift – he also carries cards for local non-profits like The Hope Chest on South Main Street to ensure that the homeless get the things that they need to not only survive, but put themselves in positions to leave the hard life they’re living behind.
If somebody comes up to him and says that they need a jacket or a pair of pants or a pair of shoes, he has worked out an arrangement with The Hope Chest to where he writes down the item onto a pre-marked business card and that person can take it into the business and pick out the item that works for them – encouraging those who want to help to donate clothing to the non-profit operated by Community Hospice because it eliminates a lot of the problems that come from donating clothing directly to the homeless.
“I’ve actually seen it happen – people will go into Library Park with bags of clothes, and the people there will rifle through it and take what it is that they want and the rest will just get strewn about and end up as garbage,” Kelly said. “It ends up being not only a mess, but a waste. I always tell people that if they’re going to donate clothing, they should go through The Hope Chest because they’re able to help people in more ways than one.
“They have actually hired people from off the street to work for them, and I know when I hand out the card that they’re going to get the item that they need. It takes a community like that in order to take care of those types of concerns.”
His day-to-day isn’t exactly filled with stories that are brimming with hope, but that doesn’t discourage Kelly from reinforcing to the people that he comes into contact with that there are other options available for them if they choose to take advantage of them.
At the end of the day, he said, we’re all human beings, and this new job has put that into perspective as it allows him to help those who are often overlooked or marginalized by mainstream society.
“I absolutely love my job because it truly is about helping people,” Kelly said. “People will say things about what we aren’t doing but there aren’t any other cities that are the size of Manteca that have an officer who focuses on issues like this. I think that says a lot about our department and our city council and the impact that they want to try and make not just for the citizens that are concerned, but those that are affected by homelessness.
“I look forward to coming to work every day, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.