Manteca leaders are calling for a community summit on how to deal with the homeless.
And that could lead to the establishment of a shelter for single men or a day center for them to gather at as well as to possibly clean up for job interviews.
Mayor Willie Weatherford Wednesday said “it may well be time” to consider a homeless shelter for men as the city’s homeless problems continue to escalate.
But at the same time he warned, “if you build it, they will come” in reference to a shelter attracting other homeless to the community. That’s why he said it was important that a summit — the idea was advanced by Councilman John Harris — bring together businesses, non-profits, churches, and the community to find a working solution for the long-haul.
Restrooms at Library Park were closed this week after city workers found numerous syringes lying around the public restrooms and the toilets all clogged. That follows on the heels of citizen complaints about homeless engaging in prostitution and illegal drug use as well as a growing list of other issues from homeless wandering in and out of heavy traffic ignoring vehicles, breaking into unoccupied rentals and doing extensive damage, and starting fires.
Other residents have complained since police stepped up pressure on the homeless at Library Park that they have fled to other locations in Manteca including gathering outside 24-hour convenience stores
The City Council embraced a sweeping eight-point plan proposed by Police Chief Nick Obligacion to address the homeless problem taking into account two goals: To help those who want help and to make it exceedingly tough on those who chose being homeless to break laws and intimidate people in Manteca.
It was clear the council as well as the police chief are trying to walk a tight rope.
“We have no throw away human beings in Manteca,” Councilman Vince Hernandez said.
But at the same time Hernandez was emphatic there was no place in Manteca for homeless who opt to intimidate other people with brazen behavior such as walking up to them and talking loudly to their face.
Hernandez noted that some of the homeless grew up on Manteca saying “they were in school with us” but was quick to add that the uptick in homeless ranks appeared to be swelled by those coming from out of town.
The councilman said “word is out we’re easy” on the homeless in Manteca.
Hernandez added it was important that “we don’t enable the homeless.”
He urged residents to follow the suggestion of the police chief and not give the homeless money or food but instead donate to services that can help feed them and work to get them off the streets.
Obligacion believes if people refrain from distributing and/or leaving food for the homeless at places such as Library Park and direct them instead to various churches and other groups that offer assistance it will help improvement conditions at Library Park.
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DeBrum pushed for city action on homeless concerns
Councilman Steve DeBrum who got the ball rolling to get the city to make a more concerted effort to address the homeless problem, observed “this is not a new issue, it is a growing concern.”
“We are all aware that these individuals have rights,” DeBrum said. “They are no different than anyone else.”
That said, DeBrum stressed the need to have people feel safe using parks and going about their business without being harassed or threatened by those that are homeless who chose to break the law.
Downtown businesswoman Brenda Franklin echoed DeBrum’s observations.
“There are reasonable recommendations (made by Obligacion),” Franklin said.
She noted the rules will apply to everyone and not just the homeless.
“They’re a step in the right direction,” Franklin said in order to protect Manteca’s quality of life.
Dave Thompson, the executive director of HOPE Ministries that operates three homeless shelters in Manteca catering to families and single moms with kids, said his organization and non-profits such as LOVE INC are willing to be part of the solution.
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Past resistance to men’s shelter
Thompson said there has been a resistance in the community over the years regarding the establishment of a single men’s shelter.
Thompson said a solution to the homeless concerns in Manteca would be to address the fact “they are looking for shelter, a place to be with their friends, and are looking for food.”
Thompson has headed up HOPE Ministries since 2000 after retiring from a 35-year career as a police officer.
Steve Parsons of LOVE INC noted the solution may not involve a full blown shelter rather a place where the homeless could meet during the day, get help and have a way to clean up to go on job interviews.
Obligacion stressed his plan’s “main focus” was to get help for those that wanted it.
The police chief said there are two types of homeless — those on the street by circumstance and those there by choice who pursue it as a lifestyle.
He wants to help those who want help and make it clear to those that don’t that illicit behavior will not be tolerated.
The bulk of his plan involves the adoption of municipal laws as well as making some physical changes to parks. They include:
• Instituting a homeless encampment ban.
• Possibly banning animals within Library and Wilson parks.
• Establishing clothing requirements for parks.
• Banning public urination.
• Prohibiting scavenging in recycling and waste containers for the purpose of recycling.
• Temporary closure of the Library Park restrooms.
• Changes in available seating at Library and Wilson parks.