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Biggest mistake Manteca could make is to encourage a drop-in homeless shelter
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

There are some who argue the city should pursue a drop-in homeless shelter instead of trying to make it possible for Inner City Action to establish a homeless resource center in Manteca.

Before exploring that argument let’s be absolutely clear why we are even discussing the city having a hand in trying to ease or address the homeless situation beyond what it is doing. What it is doing, by the way, is committing two community resource officers and related equipment that is easily costing taxpayers $300,000 a year, specifically to address homeless issues.

The approach of having officers build relationships to try and steer the homeless toward services to get them off the streets or reunite them with families balanced with addressing illegal behavior that the homeless engage in was born from a civil rights lawsuit settlement pressed by three Manteca homeless individuals of which at least one is very much still on the street.

Cities can’t simply roundup the homeless and ship them to the next town as some nearby jurisdictions did illegally for years. No one is doing that today because all it takes is three homeless individuals treated in such a manner and its class action status to start a lawsuit that could bleed a municipal treasury dry and then some. You also can’t keep citing them or even jailing them on more egregious quality of life crimes they commit essentially to survive. For starters they can’t afford to pay citations and any jail time is minimal at best. Besides if you cite a homeless person for public defecation and illegal camping —  both of which they likely have to do every day — by the time their day in court rolled around in four months or so police could issue them 240 citations for each offense if they caught them in the act each time. To assume somehow homeless crimes are going to result in extended jail time or even prison is a fantasy when convicted burglars get pats on the wrist. This is California, not Singapore.

The courts also have laid down some rules: Being homeless is not a crime, the homeless have the right to reasonable notification when their illegal camps are cleared out, authorities have to hold on to such items for at least 30 days, and the homeless have a right to sleep. Also, for the most perplexing cases among the homeless, the courts have established a high and rigid standard that needs to be met before the mentally ill — sheltered or not — can be involuntarily committed even for serval days.

Some argue that has extended rights to the homeless that no one else has. Not true. All of the aforementioned applies to the sheltered and unsheltered. 

That brings us to why it makes absolute sense to establish a homeless resource center in Manteca as opposed to drop-in homeless shelter.

The City of Sacramento is looking at a plan that will cost $9.4 million over two years to build a 100-bed homeless shelter in a parking lot at Cal Expo. That’s $4 million to build it and $5.4 million to run it. What they don’t tell you it translates into a $2.7 million annual ongoing cost to operate.

They intend to have resources available with the goal to get the homeless into treatment programs and/or permanent housing.

Homeless shelters are more crutch than a hand up. 

A homeless resource center is a conduit to services the homeless can access of which some can help them get off the street.

The Inner City Action version requires a commitment to come off the street to access more robust services. It gets to the root of the reasons why someone is homeless and goes from there to keep them off the street.

The is no such requirement at a drop-in shelter much beyond following some basic rules in allowed to be able to be sheltered.

There are a few people who equate the fact Inner City Action would pitch a big tent for a temporarily homeless resource center as being the same as what Modesto did by turning over a city park to the homeless and allowing people to drop by tents to turn it into a tent city for them homeless. It’s not.

The Inner City Action approach is not a temporary fix. They work with the homeless for solutions that turn their lives around and keep them from returning to the streets.

As for those worried those who opt to remain homeless because of stubbornness, mental illness, their commitment to abusing substance, or because they prefer the lifestyle Manteca police in working with community-based and government organizations such as the health department are doing what they can now to make the homeless aware of assistance that exists if they have a health problem and such. They even go as far as providing vouchers at the Hospice thrift store if they are in dire need of clothing.

This may sound mean-spirited but we shouldn’t provide any shelter to the homeless if it can be accessed carte blanche. Each month organizations come together to visit the homeless in Manteca and offer them multiple ways to get off the street. The reason more than 250 people who were once homeless are off the streets today in Manteca is because after the rapport the two police officers assigned to work with the homeless was developed, they were willing to take the next step. A homeless resource center would make the encounters more frequent to accelerate the building of trust key for people to take that first big step to get off the streets.

And as those who work with the homeless point out including several who were once homeless themselves, if you help ease or reduce their misery of discomfort such as providing umbrellas and tents to the homeless as one individual did during last year’s rainy season, it makes it harder to get them off the streets. It sounds counterintuitive, but the homeless develop a degree of comfort in being homeless.

The Inner City Action model has a much higher degree of success because it eschews a drop-in shelter approach or even a seven day a week soup kitchen.

The City Council appears to be on the right course. 

Doing nothing guarantees things will not get better and have a high probability of getting worse. Establishing drop-in shelters create issues such as you see at St. Mary’s dining hall near the Crosstown Freeway and Interstate 5 in Stockton.

If Manteca were to spend $4 million to establish a 100-bed homeless shelter and then spend $2.7 million in an annual basis to staff it, it would not lower the homeless numbers by much if at all. You could argue that they’d increase given the low sucess that resources attached to drop-in homeless shelters have at getting people off the street.

A well-run homeless resource center run by a faith-based organization has a significantly better success rate at a fraction of the cost.


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 or 209.249.3519.