There will never be a solution per se for the homeless problem as defined as no one left living on the streets.
The best we can aim for is to improve the situation incrementally.
While it concerns me that some people trying to stay off the street get on it due to financial setbacks or situations such as being “aged out” of the foster care system, they rarely get glued to the streets unless there are ancillary issues such as substance abuse or a severe case of having to live by their own rules instead of compromising to keep a roof over their heads.
What the City of Manteca is doing with its community resource officers strikes a balance reaching out constantly to those on the streets making them aware there is a path for them through various services and/or reconnecting with relatives and keeping a lid on as much illegal behavior that creates quality of life issues as possible.
The trick to making the two worlds of housed and unhoused Manteca residents co-exist is to make sure the homeless aren’t used as cover to allow serious crime and safety problems to flourish.
The best example in 2017 of clear, pragmatic thinking when it comes to keeping homeless issues in Manteca in check was the recommendation by Manteca Police CRO Mike Kelly — and the City Council’s subsequent embrace of the idea — to install decorative wrought iron fencing to secure the Manteca Library courtyard.
Due to the ability to provide some shelter against the elements and being able to stay out of view of Center Street, it became a nightly sleeping spot often pulling in as many as a dozen homeless. That in itself wasn’t the issue. The problem was the morning after evidence of drug use, taking care of both ends of their business, litter, and outright property damage. Those damages included breaking lights so they could sleep and ripping out wiring to create makeshift plugs to charge their smartphones.
Not only has the fence eliminated those problems, but the homeless confronting library employees has been eliminated and the $1,000 plus the city was forking out every two to three months to make repairs has been eliminated as has been the daily effort to clean up messes left behind. It also prompted the library to add outside tables with chairs and umbrellas to create an inviting place to read.
The city has already recouped the $6,600 expense for the fence in cost avoidance. But more importantly safety at the library has been enhanced.
I’m not bothered by the occasional homeless person that is bedding down near the Bulletin when I leave to go home in the wee hours of the morning. The homeless on bicycles cutting through my neighborhood day and night — including at 2 a.m. — aren’t an issue for me. Nor are the homeless who obviously violate curfew rules by hanging out at nearby Lincoln Park at night at the picnic structure to either barbecue, kill time, or stay dry during overnight rain. And as for the lady that for the past three weeks spends several hours in the late evening either napping or sitting with her belongings in front of the tanning salon next to the East Yosemite Avenue 7-Eleven doesn’t bother anyone and the property owners/business don’t object, I have no beef. I agree it doesn’t look good but you’ve got to be pragmatic, reasonable and understand they have a right to exist but without a place to claim as their own, it creates a quandary. You may not like it but the courts are correct legally and morally in saying that being homeless in its self is not a crime.
We could hammer the homeless for every infraction but what will that accomplish besides consuming even more resources for naught?
What we need to do is take away situations that can be created where the public’s health and welfare is clearly jeopardized.
We should view most homeless issues as low-level irritants while working to provide the water that the proverbial horse may one day drink from. And while we can’t force the homeless to get help to get off the street until they are ready to do so, that doesn’t mean we turn over the keys to the city to them.
That brings us to the one thing we should not tolerate — leaving a campus of 1,600 students vulnerable to the criminal element that uses the homeless as cover.
Tuesday’s incident of a man carrying a sheathed knife as he walked across the Manteca High campus thanks to a the fact the section of Garfield Avenue that slices through the campus hasn’t been abandoned by the city is a reminder we are on borrowed time.
Because the knife was sheathed and the city has allowed a section of a street that has little practical use for traffic movement stay open, it was perfectly OK for a man with a knife to cut through the campus. We were fortunate Tuesday that the man was even keel. It could have been somebody on drugs, it could have been someone mentally unbalanced or it could have been someone who saw the open access to a high school campus when 1,600 students are in session as an opportunity for mayhem.
The Manteca City Council needs to make turning over the segment of Garfield Avenue south of Mikesell Street and north of Precision Automotive to the school district the absolute highest priority possible.