I’m going to let in you in on a dirty little secret.
There are people living in fear in Manteca today.
They fear being attacked. They fear being aggressively confronted. They fear for their safety on their property.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is if you were reading this 12 years ago we’d be talking about gang violence and not the criminal element — or simply those doing acts without malice afterthought — among the homeless.
Manteca managed to pull the community together to end the every other night shooting galleries that plagued Southside Park and because no one was in a hurry to do anything about it — had started to spread to other neighborhoods both old and new in Manteca.
Let’s be perfectly clear. The overall Manteca crime rate continues to drop per 1,000 residents. We still have gang problems but there is somewhat of a lid on it. The homeless, just like gangs, aren’t an exclusive Manteca issue. You can find the same two issues in Pleasanton or in Montana. What is exclusive to Manteca is how city leadership — and ultimately the city — respond to them. This is not simply a police problem nor is it the city’s fault. That said, the reason Manteca incorporated a century ago this month was to have the structure in place to deploy tools to keep the community safe and healthy
And because of that homeless within the confines of Manteca is a city concern.
Now that the homeless may have inadvertently torched another downtown building, let’s not hear the all-too-familiar refrain from 1001 West Center Street, “We just don’t have the money” when they are asked to take a leadership role.
The city is sitting on various general fund reserves hovering around $10 million. And while they should not just open the vault shoveling money at the problem they clearly can explore options that cost relatively little or no money. They need to stop hiding behind the curtain as if they are the great wizard and pontificate. The rest of us have got to stop putting all of our bets on the city and slamming them for “doing nothing.”
The city deserves a big fat “U” for unsatisfactory for how clumsy they have rolled out what is fairly good part of the solution — targeting homeless needs and issues — by dedicating two “almost police officers” that allowed them to do what the city does best which is save money by paying less in salaries than two full-fledged officers.
Remember the Manteca City Council directing staff in June of 2016 to go with the staff’s on-the-cheap solution and hire not one but two community resource officers? Anyone want to venture how many times we have been told addressing the homeless problems is Manteca’s No. 1 quality of life issue?
Staff has done a spectacularly miserable job of putting two resource officers on the streets to deal with homeless issues and now, of late, it’s been reduced to just one officer, one day a week. How a council that made this a top priority can accept any staff explanation for this happening and not order a rethink in execution is a mystery that is being answered in subtle ways.
How subtle? Check windows around town and ask merchants how mysteriously they are broken after confronting homeless for committing behavior that would land the rest of us in jail. Councilman Gary Singh last week found out how subtle the homeless can be when they’re punching you in the face. And, if you were unfortunate to encounter the lady from Florida who graced our streets with her presence this month, she’d show you how subtle she could be by doing a full-scale strip.
Yes, there is mental illness. Yes, there are decent homeless out there. Yes, they have rights.
But guess what? Paid city leaders aren’t pulling down six figures to tell us the obvious.
Let’s take it to the next level and step up the partnership with the community and act like we mean it just like back in 2007 when Manteca took back Southside Park.
uConvert the two community resource officers into full-fledged police officer positions and then rotate police officers in and out of the homeless assignment every year or so.
uExplore leasing the former city vehicle maintenance building on Wetmore Street next to the animal shelter to a non-profit for $1 a year for use of a day shelter to address homeless issues and needs.
uMake it illegal and punishable by a fine for anyone to give money to panhandlers where it is illegal to do so at controlled intersections. After the law is on the books, run a sting operation. People will get the message.
uPut in place an education blitz to direct donations to non-profits that are doing a Herculean job trying to get the homeless back on track in society and are struggling for funds.
uActively encourage merchants to acquire signs such as the one in front of the 7-Eleven on Yosemite at Powers avenues to request the public refrain from giving money and to panhandlers.
uKeep gently pushing to get homeless to the point they willingly accept help.
uKeep the pressure on the illegal behavior of the homeless that are not only health and safety issues but the gateway crimes to spread blight.
The homeless issues aren’t going away. What will happen, though, unless Manteca steps up is more of the same.
Any bets on what business a warming fire will take out next or who next will get punched by the homeless?
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.