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The case for City of Manteca to deploy portable toilets for homeless to access
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

Debby Moorhead gets it.

People have to go to the bathroom.

The Manteca councilwoman thinks it’s time for the City of Manteca to give serious thought to renting portable toilets with wash stations placed at strategic locations throughout Manteca. That way the cost to taxpayers would be minimal, it wouldn’t require city staff to maintain them, and if they aren’t effective they can be simply removed.

It is, as Moorhead would say, “worth a try.”

The portable toilet idea is in response to arguably the most perplexing challenge Manteca as well as any other community in California that is halfway honest with itself faces. That challenge is homeless issues.

Give Moorhead and the rest of the council credit. They are not running away from homeless issues or partaking in the fantasy that their community is either immune from homeless problems or that they will magically go away on their own accord.

That’s because Mayor Ben Cantu as well as council members Dave Breitenbucher, Jose Nuño, Gary Singh, and Moorhead are pragmatic and realists. They get that the homeless can present serious as well as annoying issues when it comes to the overall quality of life of the community. They also realize no matter how far they may have fallen that we are talking about real people. At the same time they get that the city needs to rely on community groups working together as well as harnessing what government services are available. They understand the courts are the ultimate arbitrator of the law of the land and have made it clear what cities can’t do when it come to the homeless. And if you still can’t stomach what they are trying to do, carefully weigh the words Councilman Nuño made at the end of the last Council meeting. Essentially he said local agencies need to take steps to address the homeless or else the state will do it for them.

It may not happen tomorrow but eventually the California Legislature will be pushed into doing something in communities that choose to act like there is no problem within their jurisdiction. That “something” more than likely could end up being the mandatory opening of drop-in homeless shelters that do nothing to get people off the street as opposed to a robust homeless resource center and faith-based endeavors that take a holistic approach all the way to job training and work placement.

Also understand the five council members do not walk in lockstep. They all — including Moorhead — wrestle out loud with the negatives of every solution they look at involving the homeless. Breitenbucher, who perhaps has the greatest reservations about tapping the  Qualex building as a homeless resource center due to concerns that the costs to do the work could overwhelm Inner City Action, is a willing supporter of the city’s pursuit of a grand deal between local agencies and the state to see if it can become a reality. That said his support isn’t through rose colored glasses hence the dissenting vote he cast on the council’s decision to suspend a conditional use permit requirement for the site.

So what does all of that have to do with Moorhead’s thoughts about the City at least on a trial basis placing portable toilets around the community where the homeless congregate and bed down?

Let’s start with the obvious. Where do you think these people do the No. 2 when they can’t access bathrooms that stores have cut off access to by declaring they do not have restrooms for the public?

There are a few residents I can direct you to including one on Fremont Street. He was getting mildly annoyed at how the homeless would reach through his fence and access an outdoor water faucet to get water and then not turn it off. But then one day he found out some individuals were taking a dump just outside of his fence and using the faucet as a way to get water to clean up afterwards. He solved the problem by cutting off water to the faucet.

The Bulletin has been sent photos by text and email of homeless individuals actually caught in the act of dropping their pants behind businesses to take — there is no polite way to say this — a dump.

Merchants and offices across Manteca can share stories of having to clean up after the homeless have done the No. 2 or urinated against walls. 

Moorhead has been told of what might best be described as “revolting incidents” involving the homeless finding ways to go to the bathroom at various concerns at The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley.

Those businesses that have outdoor sheds on display wised up a long time ago and have taken to secure them when their businesses are closed.

Few people see the results of public urination and defecation because it is usually cleaned up in quick order at the start of a business day. You can see it from time to time along the Tidewater and elsewhere in Manteca that are in areas that are less visible. And before anyone starts going off how this doesn’t happen in other communities, here’s a news flash: Even places like Ripon and Pleasanton have homeless and believe it or not they have to go to the bathroom too.

The decision by businesses to simply not make their restrooms available to the public is not primarily in response to lawyers trying to get rich off of Americans with Disabilities Act based lawsuits as it is the time it takes them to clean their restrooms after some homeless use them for “sponge” baths and — to be honest — act like they don’t know how to use a toilet.

There are concerns by placing portable toilets around Manteca as some believe the homeless and others that are predisposed to do so may use them to shoot up drugs or have sex as they did at the Library Park restrooms before they were locked up for three years before being reopened during park hours with the Manteca Police community resource officers monitoring them and reminding the homeless if they abuse the restrooms they could be locked again.

Others contend having portable toilets would attract homeless to Manteca no matter how absurd that may sound.

The argument for a trial run of portable bathrooms runs the gamut from public health concerns from the actual open air defecating as lack of hygiene for most homeless that it entails such as cleaning hands afterwards to the simple fact the homeless of our community are — and not mostly by choice — using Manteca as a toilet.

If you don’t think the homeless will try to use portable toilets if they can find them, spend some time around the Flyers gas station at Moffat Boulevard and Cowell Street that I pass going to and from my home a number of times a day either in my car, walking my dog, or jogging.

You will see the homeless using the portable toilet that Flyers placed there for their customers. More than a few of those that use it have walked from nearby illegal camps less than a half mile away along the 120 Bypass.

Yes, the camps are illegal and they will be cleaned out occasionally scattering the homeless to find nook and crannies around buildings in the area before eventually returning to set up illegal camps again. 

It is why a robust resource center that works tirelessly to not make life easier for the homeless but to get the homeless off the street is the best course Manteca can pursue to either keep the homeless situation from getting worse of improving it.

In tandem with that there is something that can be done that reduces healthy risks for everyone in Manteca, eliminate some of the literal crap business people and others have to deal with on almost a daily basis and to scale back how the homeless problem has turned areas of the community into open air toilets.

And — as a parting reminder — anyone who thinks this is something that Manteca can issue tickets to eliminate or is something that is unique to Manteca needs to not open their hearts as much as open their eyes.

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.