Manteca Police for the past six weeks have stepped up their pressure on the homeless at Library Park.
They’ve done it by using municipal ordinances ranging from rules that prohibit the taking of shopping carts from stores to laws against lying on top of picnic tables in parks.
Police Chief Nick Obligacion directed a more concerted effort at the beginning of summer when he swung by the Tuesday farmers market and was dismayed to see more than a dozen transients with bed rolls, shopping carts, and other items occupying Wilson Park behind the Post Office after officers had rousted them from Library Park.
“My goal is to make it as inconvenient for them as possible,” Obligacion told Manteca Rotarians during their Thursday meeting when he was questioned about the homeless at Library Park.
Councilman Steve DeBrum at the last council meeting asked the police chief to bring back to the council sometime in August a plan to further step up pressure on the homeless that may cross the line and intimidate others using Library Park.
Obligacion noted since the crackdown started seeing a transient with a shopping cart in or around Library Park is much rarer. The chief noted the homeless have gotten the message on shopping carts.
“There are two types of homeless,” Obligacion said. “There are the ones down on their luck and there are the ones that chose that lifestyle.”
The police chief said those who have hit rough spots are willing to accept help in a bid to change their lot. Those that chose being homeless as a lifestyle refuse help.
He noted that the homeless do have rights and the officers are careful not to violate them.
“We don’t want to create expensive litigation for the city,” Obligacion said.
But even so, Obligacion said there are various ordnances that officers can use to cite and arrest those homeless that are not following the rules that apply to everyone.
“If we arrest them and drive them to French Camp (the county jail) enough, sooner or later they will get tired of walking all the way back to Manteca,” Obligacion said.
The police chief said he has additional ideas that he will present to the council in a bid “to give officers more tools in the tool box” to do their job.”
He noted a request he made for an ordinance last year to ban smoking in city parks that the council ultimately opted not to adopt would have provided officers with another tool in cleaning up municipal parks.
The police chief added that some wording in ordinances is open to a wide interpretation such as camping in parks. Someone may have a bed roll in a park during hours the park is open and may be sleeping but that may not qualify as camping as defined by pitching a tent or being inside a sleeping bag.
Obligacion said the department’s efforts are hampered by the fact a number of organizations — especially churches — use Library Park to distribute food and clothes to the homeless. Noting that those efforts are done by permit that his office must approve, the city can’t just arbitrarily limit the issuance of them. He said churches could still help the homeless and not create more problems at Library Park if they had food distribution for the homeless at their facilities.
He added that residents can also help by not giving money to panhandlers in Manteca.
“Manteca isn’t the only city with a homeless problem,” Obligacion pointed out.
He noted San Luis Obispo was facing a large homeless issue so they hired eight police officers they teemed with social workers. That helped reduce the number of homeless that were on the street because they were down on their luck. It didn’t, however, put a big dent in those who opt for the homeless lifestyle by choice.
The police chief urged people when they encounter a homeless problem at Library Park to call police. If officers are not tied up on other calls they will respond promptly.
“My officers understand that this (the homeless in Library Park) is a big issue with me,” Obligacion said.