Perhaps the most effective initiative undertaken by the city in the past decade to improve Manteca was the council decision 18 months ago to hire community resource officers to address homeless issues and start chipping away at quality of life issues.
What the city essentially did was create a quasi-social worker/law enforcement position that is more Sheriff Andy Taylor than Robo Cop.
One needs to be honest about the dynamics of the homeless situation.
It has been around since the beginning of civilization.
There are services out there already in place aimed at helping the homeless.
Addicts and the mentally ill are in the mix.
It is not a crime to be homeless per se.
There are homeless individuals who only want to do it their way meaning they don’t want to follow rules.
Once you become homeless and the longer you stay homeless the more difficult it is to get off the street.
We have to have rules and standards — property rights, health and safety laws, conduct standards, and laws governing behavior when interacting with others — or else we will have chaos. And those rules need to be followed and enforced.
uMany of the homeless, just like most people, will take a different attitude when they realize that someone cares about their plight.
It is against that backdrop that Manteca took a different path than most other cities. The council didn’t cover their eyes, they didn’t throw bales of money at the problem and they opted against doing the same thing and getting the same result such as working to establishing a single adult shelter.
Non-profits, government agencies and churches dealing with the homeless have outreach programs but are so overwhelmed they have limited time on the streets — often just a day or two a month — and certainly not day to day basis.
By creating two law enforcement positions that are more quasi-social worker than a patrol officer that are zeroing in on homeless issues, Manteca has been able to keep firm and constant pressure on the individuals involved.
The result has been stunning in many instances. People who have been homeless for years in Manteca who have drug problems and such that police officers and social workers thought would never enter rehab programs and would die in the street have — or are getting treatment — to move back into society.
That’s because on almost a daily basis the CROs are interacting with the same homeless individuals. At the same time quality of life crimes are being addressed in Manteca and strategies implemented to reduce issues and concerns.
To date, Manteca’s effort that uses CROs as the conduit to solutions such as drug rehab, shelter and employment or reuniting with family clear across the country has managed to get an average of 10 people a month off the streets over the last 1 1/2 years.
This week’s pronouncement that Wilson and Library parks in downtown Manteca had gone issue free for two days will only last if the city and community continue their efforts. Keep in mind the homeless still on the streets haven’t disappeared. In working with the CROs they have shifted their “base” gathering points from in and around the Library Park gazebo and under the massive trees of Wilson Park behind the post office to other locales such as the Lincoln Park and Northgate Park group picnic shelters.
This is normally in the early morning or early night when no one else is around. They often BBQ meals at the locations, converse, or just hang out with their peers before heading out into the streets of departing to spots where they bed down for the night.
The homeless have their own routines just like those who have shelter.
No one directed the homeless to gather at the two parks. But it was clear that they could steer clear of problems by avoiding high profile spots such as around the library. Both Northgate and Lincoln parks have restrooms.
There are minimal residue issues — homeless hanging around when families and children are using Northgate and Lincoln parks. Complaints have been virtually non-existent from nearby residents and park users.
Between homegrown issues and transients wandering from town to town the homeless issues isn’t going away in Manteca or anywhere else for that matter just like you are never going to eliminate traffic accidents, drug abuse, or speeding. The reasonable goal is to bring it under control.
As for the bigger issues such as mental illness, drug addiction, and anti-social behavior the solutions are above Manteca’s pay grade.
Mental illness is a prime example. Police, health care professionals and others are limited by what they can do by court rulings and federal and state edicts.
It serves no purpose to blame whoever you want from the 1970s whether they allegedly emptied mental hospitals or enhanced rights making it very hard to hold someone against their will for a perceived mental illness. That can only be addressed by public debates leading to system changes that will pass constitutional muster. It is not something any city can change.
We would all like to snap our fingers and resolve homeless issues in an instant. That said after 18 months it is clear Manteca is on the right path on what will need to be a marathon journey.