Manteca cleared out five illegal homeless encampments on Saturday including one that at one point had more than 20 squatters on Caltrans property.
At the same time community groups have answered the call to make alternatives available to the homeless who are willing to stay “clean and sober” in terms of drugs and alcohol.
The biggest encampment was nestled in trees on the northeast corner of the Louise Avenue overpass at Highway 99. Homeless had gone as far as to dig a cave into the dirt “hill” used to support Louise Avenue creating the potential for a cave-in or issues to develop with the road.
The second largest encampment was in a field near Winters Drive and West Yosemite Avenue. A Manteca Police officer coordinated the clean-up working with a crew of offenders assigned to community service.
The Manteca City Council passed a law that went into effect in December that made homeless encampments illegal.
Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion noted that in all cases officers gave the homeless in the encampments a heads up that they had a deadline to clear out. When they failed to do so, the crews went in and cleaned out the encampments.
Obligacion emphasized the goal is to provide the homeless with ways to get help to avoid having to break the law in order to survive. That means, however, that the homeless can’t simply do what they want such as stay on drugs or drink alcohol.
Inner City Action — a church without walls from Stockton — has started providing a weekly Wednesday BBQ feeding at Metal Tech on Moffat Boulevard. The effort also provides food that can be taken as well as free toiletries.
The first week they served 47 people.
And while they don’t force anyone into anything, the organization has 20 beds available for those who want to be clean and sober at their Stockton facility — 10 for men and 10 for women.
One of those helping Wednesday was a former Manteca homeless man who had numerous encounters with Manteca Police over the years. He used the program to get off the street with the only provision being he had to stop using drugs and alcohol.
Obligacion said complaints about homeless issues ranging from breaking windows as well as defecating and urinating in downtown have dropped off substantially. While there are still problems, the police chief noted the situation has improved somewhat.
The police chief stressed that addressing issues concerning homeless crime and steering homeless to services that can help them will be a long process.
Police officers have distributed many of the 1,000 cards printed up that lists available service for the homeless. Obligacion noted that some have argued a number of the services available “are too far to reach” but even so groups such as Inner City Action provide vans to pick up the homeless to ferry them to the available services.
Obligacion is planning a community meeting on Feb. 17 as a follow up to the homeless summit that took place in December.