Manteca is exploring a wide variety of options to deal with the homeless.
Perhaps the most intriguing is a true regional approach in partnership with nearby cities such as Ripon and Lathrop using the Qualex property where the temporary warming center being operated by Inner City Action through March 31 is located at 555 Industrial Park Drive.
The scenario would see the Qualex structure as a navigation center where the homeless can access services and resources with the ultimate goal being to get the homeless off the streets and being able to support themselves. It could also include shelter — an in-take center — designed for those transitioning off the streets by working with a program, a drop-in shelter or both.
It is just one of a wide array of options being explored at the staff level as city management takes to heart the council’s direction that addressing homeless issues is one of the city’s top priorities.
Manteca is moving forward with a clear understanding there are a number of things that are essentially hard cold realities.
*The law of the land for all cities and counties within the 9th District Court of Appeals jurisdiction since the Supreme Court has declined to review their decision is that a wide array of laws used to stop the homeless from sleeping on public property and even storing their items are essentially suspended unless there are available beds for the homeless to access.
*Homeless advocacy groups are using the courts more and more to hammer cities into submission when they essentially do nothing to help get the homeless off the streets while at the same time enforcing qualify of life laws. The financial ramifications have cost cities millions of dollars in legal settlements while at the same time have the court imposing a solution.
*Even if the 9th District hadn’t imposed its ruling, it was clear citing, arresting, and going to court over illegal camping and such was accomplishing nothing except costing taxpayers tons of money and clogging up the criminal justice system.
*The homeless are costing taxpayers directly and indirectly large sums of money every day whether it involves city crews constantly cleaning up parks and public places, police responses, emergency room costs, ambulance services, and more.
*State leaders have made it clear if local efforts aren’t made to find solutions Sacramento will step in and dictate what cities and counties have to do. It could mean no local control over where drop-in shelters would go.
Brainstorming about a regional approach has touched on how costs of running a homeless complex of some type could be pro-rated on a per person basis. If Ripon, as an example, had three homeless individuals they were able to convince to make use of the navigation center in a bid to get off the street, that city would be charged accordingly.
To make sure other communities arren’t “dumping” their homeless on Manteca, license plate scanners could be checked periodically for government plates allowing the city to inquire with other jurisdictions why they were in the city on a particular day that matches up with a homeless individual that may have arrived at the navigation center the same day from the same city.
Trust but verify is a critical component given fear of one city dumping its homeless problems on another is real. Such activity has been documented in years past and the threat has been kept alive by Tracy Mayor Robert Rickman who thinks all his city needs to do is give his homeless in that community bus tickets to Stockton or a ride to the Manteca warming center.
The navigation center or drop-in shelter, as the city has found out, doesn't necessarily need to be run by a local non-profit. There are firms that are being contracted by cities to run shelters and similar operations.
Some jurisdictions such as Las Vegas have established secured “courtyards” where the homeless can stay for the night with portable toilets, shower facilities, the ability to store their belongings in a secure place, an area for pets, and meals. Sleeping mats are provided for open air sleeping with some covered areas.
The courtyard operation in Las Vegas is set up as a navigation center with resources for the homeless. The city is in the process of building permanent facilities such as classrooms, an in-take facility and more using $16 million in bonds and grants.
More than 300 people access the courtyard every night. Keep in mind there were 6,490 homeless in Las Vegas/Clark County during a point in time count in January. Some officials believe at certain points of the year the homeless population is double that. There are also other shelters operated by non-profits in the Vegas metro area that provide upwards of 2,000 additional beds
Manteca officials are also aware of another issue that will surely raise the hackles of taxpayers.
Running a homeless navigation center and/or drop in shelter costs money — lots of it.
The City of Las Vegas commits $2.5 million a year toward the $7 million operating cost for the courtyard. The rest is bridged with grants and donations.
Given the HOPE Family Shelters — a successful 26-year old Manteca endeavor to temporarily shelter homeless families with providing services aimed at helping them be self-sufficient and keep a roof over their heads — serves 280 people in a year with an annual budget of $360,000, whatever the city does it isn’t going to be cheap.
Although city officials speak optimistically about the prospect of securing grants, it is clear even if they are successful the city will still need to put money on the table.
No one is willing to toss out figures at this point in time but it is safe to bet $250,000 annually may be a starting point. While that seems like a number pulled from thin air, remember the city kicked in $25,000 to pay toward just the fuel to keep the warming center heated for four months. Inner City Action had to scramble for much more in donations to pay the fuel bill and cover other costs.
The cost will increase significantly when you jump to a 57,000-square-foot navigation center with or without a shelter component that is operating 24/7, 365 days a year instead of just four months.
The City Council was absolutely right to make dealing with homeless issues a top priority. It impacts the quality of life of the entire community.
That said the fact the next step will cost taxpayers considerably more than the $300,000 plus the city budgets annually for the salaries and benefits of two Manteca Police community resource officers dedicated to homeless issues, will make it a sore point with many.
If the electorate gets that there is really no other alternative, the council may skate by without a backlash.
However as things stand now there is no candidate emerging for the Nov. 3 election that appears hell-bent on opposing the emerging city initiatives that will essentially take tax resources away from streets, police, and other municipal services.