It was a consortium of people.
Business owners. Social workers. Public policy experts. Elected officials. Law enforcement.
And while putting all of those people in one room, along with some of the people that they were there to talk about – Manteca’s homeless – might have seemed like somewhat of a volatile situation, Police Chief Nick Obligacion, who was tapped by the Manteca City Council to come back with some sort of a strategy, walked out of a three hour public summit with a sense of direction.
No one group can do it alone.
Regardless of the opinions expressed Wednesday morning at the Manteca Transit Center – even those by a guitar-clad homeless man who called himself “Robert” and ended his fiery time at the lectern by saying that he was going to get every one of the Manteca council members who voted to outlaw rifling through blue toters fired – the crowd gave applause to each of those that walked up and gave their input regarding an issue that everybody also universally agreed has become a problem that needs to be addressed in some form or fashion.
“Like I’ve said before, I believe that there are two groups here in town – those that are homeless by choice, and those that are homeless by circumstance. And I think that what we tried to accomplish today was to find out what resources we have and how to we get it to them,” Obligacion said. “One of the things that was said here today was that we’re all the same, and I think that we’re all working towards that common goal.”
But change can’t come fast enough for some downtown business owners who are facing vandalism from those that they attempt to roust from their parking lots and even their doorways when they try to open up for the day.
Jennifer Christopher, who owns Mimosa Spa and Salon, says that she’s spent thousands of dollars replacing broken windows that were smashed in retaliation for getting kicked out of the mezzanine level of her building – an architectural attraction that’s unique to her building. She said that she’s even pleas with them – allowing them to sleep there if they promise to clean up when they leave in the morning – only to return and find empty food boxes and bags, discarded clothes and trash strewn everywhere.
And she was one of several downtown merchants that said that human waste as well as discarded needles have also become commonplace.
The move by the city council to pass ordinances outlawing certain behaviors associated with the homeless, however, was also decried not only by some of the homeless themselves, but also experts that say that those types of policies are ineffective at the target goal of taking a hard-line stance and ushering the homeless out of the community.
According to John Mendelson of the Central Valley Low Income Housing Corporation, Manteca, according to statistics consistent with cities of its size and demographics, likely has anywhere from 125 to 185 homeless people living in the city. Last year, he said, HOPE Ministries served 207 families, and out of 150 of them that were considered traditionally homeless, half of those were children. His organization currently provides housing assistance to 23 families in Manteca, and that’s excluding other programs that Federal Section 8 or General Assistance.
That assistance, according to the woman who ran the program for San Joaquin County for a decade before retiring eight years ago, isn’t very much.
The maximum amount that a person can receive for rent, said Sharon Herrera, if they live alone and qualify for the program, is $340-a-month – that is paid directly to a landlord. If a person lives in any sort of a dwelling with other people, then the number decreases to only $126-a-month. Both only receive $27 from the county every month as a general stipend to augment other social welfare programs. Currently Manteca only has one single occupancy residency hotel downtown, and residents claim that it’s always full.
Obligacion met with representatives from multiple organizations Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to network with some of those community groups.
A future meeting will be held to discuss some of the progress that has been made on the issue and to give people another chance to voice their opinion.
“This isn’t going to be an overnight thing or a one-month or a two-month or a six-month thing. This is going to take some time and it’s going to take a lot of people working together,” Obligacion said. “The one word that I give people when they come and talk to me about this is, ‘patience.’ It’s going to take patience.”