Mike Kelly is in a fight against the weather.
The Manteca Police Department Community Resource Officer tasked with providing opportunities for placement and treatment to those in the city’s homeless population had no trouble finding people who wanted to take the help that was offered to them during the last winter. Record rainfall and freezing temperatures drove many straight into shelters or drug and alcohol treatment facilities throughout the area.
But now that it’s not uncomfortable to sleep outside on the streets, Kelly – who has to date resourced more than 140 people in just over a year, 100 of which are either still in programs or doing well – is finding that those who are willing to take the opportunities afforded are shrinking in number.
“It’s a lot different when you’re cold and you’re wet and you’re willing to do anything to be somewhere else,” Kelly said. “But you don’t need a tent and a sleeping bag in the summer – you can literally just lay down and go to sleep and be comfortable.
“That’s something that a lot of people don’t realize.”
Not everybody is willing to make that distinction.
While Kelly works hard every day to make sure that those who are willing to accept the help that is being provided to them – from an organized collective of churches, non-profits and volunteers who have banded together to help address the issue – his efforts have been negated recently by some on social media platforms like Facebook that believe that the City of Manteca has done nothing to address what they view is a growing population of homeless people across the community.
In one thread on a local Neighborhood Watch group people alleged that Athen’s Burgers decided to close their doors specifically because of the homeless population has gotten so bad in Manteca, which Kelly – who said he talked to those who were boarding up the windows – said was untrue.
He also said that he’s been struggling to inform people that not everybody that they see on the streets, or in places like Wilson Park – which has become the de facto daytime hangout for some of Manteca’s homeless – are in fact homeless.
“The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that unless these people are breaking the law, there’s not much that we can do – we can’t violate somebody’s civil rights just because somebody doesn’t want them there,” Kelly said. “You look at something like Wilson Park – I’d say that only five or six of the people that you see there are actually homeless.
“The rest are people that just come down and hang out during the day. And they are all people – they’re all human beings – that have the same rights as anybody else as long as they aren’t breaking the law.”
And while his job is primarily to provide resources to those who need it, Kelly is also tasked with upholding the law as it is currently written – which means citations and sometimes even arrests when the people he is dealing with run afoul of the law.
Kelly said that a second officer, funding for which has already been approved by the Manteca City Council, is currently going through the background check process and will only bolster the efforts to get a handle on the situation heading into the winter where he had the lion’s share of his placement successes last year.
While Kelly acknowledges the frustrations of some people, he also reiterated that his efforts have been both proactive – preventing people from ending up on the street – as well as reactive and that the city’s dedication to providing these opportunities remains as strong now as it ever has been.
“Our city has gone above and beyond other cities around us when it comes to this issue because this isn’t something that they wanted to see grow,” Kelly said. “We have resources available for people who need them, and if somebody wants to get off of the streets we can connect them with people and places that can facilitate that.
“The problem is that not everybody wants the help that we can offer, and we’re doing the best that we can to help those people as well.”