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Theyre Mantecas invisible residents
Hardcore homeless singles number less than 30 in city
Makeshift homeless living quarters located inside an abandoned building along Moffat Boulevard. - photo by GLENN KAHL

They are among Manteca’s 70,000 residents.

And their homes are the streets. Sometimes they bed down for the night in makeshift camps partially hidden by landscaping along the Tidewater Bikeway. Once in awhile they have elaborate cardboard box shelters pitched on vacant lots within industrial parks camouflaged in part by tumbleweeds.

They have been known to take up residence in abandoned buildings and homes. In the winter some can be found atop the library sleeping against vents for warmth. And - in one instance this past summer - they will turn rooftop encampments into mini-homes complete with TV, bedrooms, and toasters while plugging into outside electrical outlets.

The fire earlier this week in an abandoned county building on Moffat Boulevard shed some light on the hardcore homeless when several makeshift living quarters were found complete with bedding, clothing, storage food and even a syringe.

The last official count conducted in December puts the ranks of hardcore homeless in Manteca at just under 30.

Unlike hundreds of others who are homeless who at any given time are bouncing from sleeping in cars, to motel rooms, to couches of friends, camping at Caswell State Park to bunking down in the garages of relatives for the night, they stay on the streets.

And contrary to some misconceptions, they have strong Manteca ties.

“Manteca isn’t an attractive place to be homeless,” noted Dave Thompson, executive director of the HOPE Family Shelters that provides temporary help for families as well as mothers with children but not for single adults. “There are not shelters (or soup kitchens) as there are in Stockton or Lodi. . .  A good number of them have been on the streets. We see them year after year. They’re here in Manteca because that’s the community they identify with and feel safe in.”

In other words, the hardcore homeless at one time were typical Manteca residents living in standard housing.

Believes Manteca needs a single adult shelter

“My own personal feeling is that Manteca needs a singles shelter,” Thompson said.

But he doubts that will happen any time soon. He remembers the opposition to that possibility when HOPE Ministries was moving forward with establishing a homeless shelter on Union Road in a former convalescent hospital. Neighbors for blocks around protested stridently against even having a small potion of the complex dedicated to single adults.

There reasons ranged from the belief that single homeless posed more safety and crime issues than homeless families. They also expressed concern that the simple act of establishing a singles shelter would attract homeless from nearby communities.

“In the end with the way the building is designed it wouldn’t have worked anyway,” Thompson said. “What you also need is a place that doesn’t back up to residential backyards and is away from other people. There’s not any place in Manteca that meets that criteria.”

Thompson believes it makes more sense trying to provide an area for the homeless to go than to create problems around town.

One such “problem” is a homeless man who lives on the streets in the neighborhood between North Street and Yosemite Avenue just west of Doctors Hospital. The man has an injured foot and also is known to drink. Residents have called police from time-to-time about public drunkenness, his sleeping in alleys and even going to the bathroom in the open.

They are crimes but not high priority. When officers are available and make contact, they follow a general department policy to encourage the homeless to move on after informing them they are breaking the law.

Police Chief Nick Obligacion said that most of the homeless are cooperative. Those that are arrested and processed through the system but are usually right back on the street without any measureable time behind bars. They then have the requirement to appear in court, something that most of the hardcore homeless seem to want to avoid.

Police however can’t simply chase away people who appear homeless who are living in abandoned homes or vacant buildings.

Being homeless is not a crime per se

“We don’t know if they have permission of the owner to be there,” Obligacion said. He pointed to one particular homeless man who had been given permission by the owner of a shed on an alley in an older section of Manteca to sleep there.

While being homeless per se is not a crime, Obligacion said that if officers come across homeless sleeping along the Tidewater or other city right-of-way or even parks where you are prohibited from throwing down a sleeping bag or staying in overnight they tell the homeless they must move along.

Obligacion said the homeless almost always comply.

But when they do spot the homeless in places such as on the roof of the library, they are usually cited or arrested.

Obligacion noted that the responsibility of the police is enforcement and not to act as social workers.

Thompson - who retired more than a decade ago from the police force as a sergeant - contends the only workable solution is to establish some type of singles shelter.

“They (the hardcore homeless) are mostly older men,” Thompson said.

He said you will see young men - sometimes 18 or 19 - on the streets for several days but typically they don’t stay.

“Younger men can usually find high school friends or someone that will let them stay for while on their couch or in their garage (while getting back on their feet),” Thompson said.

Obligacion said that the hardcore homeless often share a common trait of not wanting to follow the rules or - as one social worker put it - not being told what to do.

Substance abuse also can be an issue as clean-ups of temporary encampments have shown with the discovery of syringes and such over the years.

Both Thompson and Obligacion agree the number of hardcore homeless in Manteca has been holding steady for years. The next official homeless count is planned for this December.

“It’s not really that great of a number when you consider the number of residents we have,” Thompson said.

Roughly four-tenths of one percent of Manteca residents could be considered hardcore homeless.

The City Council over the years has sidestepped addressing the single adult homeless problem unless it is to direct crackdowns when problems associated with them threatened to undermine downtown and nearby neighborhoods.

The city though has a strong record of lending support - financial an otherwise - to efforts to help homeless families as well as homeless mothers with children. Not only did they help fund the purchase of the Yosemite Avenue shelter near downtown 20 plus years ago but they just invested more than $1.2 million in redevelopment agency funds to renovate the shelter.