Okay – I get it.
Everybody, at this point, gets it.
There are a lot of what seems like homeless people wandering the streets of Manteca, and people who appear to be vagrants may or may not be wreaking a lot of havoc in the process.
Those facts are not in dispute.
But if you strike up a conversation nearly anywhere in town with somebody about the current state of things, you’re likely to hear any one of a number of complaints and “solutions” that will surely turn “The Family City” back into Mayberry once again.
And while I hate to be the bearer of bad news, almost none of those suggestions – which come from places brimming with heartfelt compassion, I’m sure – are ever going to be implemented, nor should they be.
There seems to be a contingent that believes that the Manteca Police Department are not doing anything about the problem and are simply sitting back and letting all of these things happen without any care or concern for the community or those that live in it.
That, as simply as it can be put, is patently false.
Manteca might have the only department in the Northern San Joaquin Valley that boasts a full-time, paid officer that serves in the dual-role of peacekeeper and problem-solver – tiptoeing the line between what constitutes illegality, and therefore citation or arrest, and what doesn’t.
Oh, and it probably deserves to be mentioned that in the first year he’s been on the job he has helped more than 100 people get off the street and into either drug and alcohol treatment programs or residential placement, and some have even returned back to their homes to be reunited with their families.
You aren’t going to find a whole lot of other departments that are willing to put a sworn officer in that position.
There also seem to be a whole lot of other people who believe that these folks should simply be arrested for existing in their community, or at least put onto a bus or a train and sent off to the next community so the problem can be theirs instead of ours.
And this right here seems to be the part that most people have a hard time understanding.
It is not a crime simply to be homeless anywhere in America. It is not a crime to look like you’re homeless, and it is not a crime to sit in a city park – during legal hours – with a bunch of other people who look similar to you just because it offends the sensibilities of people who remember the way that things used to be.
When the Manteca City Council tried to outlaw camping within the city limits, a few of those who felt like they were being persecuted went to a Bay Area-based law firm and filed a federal suit against the City of Manteca that led to some of the changes in policy that we now see today.
And Officer Mike Kelly, and the person who will eventually join him in his undertaking (the Manteca City Council approved two positions), will be a result of those implementations.
While Kelly might not be able to arrest somebody just because they happen to look a certain way, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t use his legal authority to cite, and even arrest, those that run afoul of the laws and civic ordinances that are being violated at any given time.
His job isn’t to make life easier for the homeless and vagrant communities, but to enforce the rules that have been put in place and attempt to mediate rising tensions between a group that appears to be here to stay and the local populace that wants them to go.
Why, might you ask, is there a seemingly endless supply of people who fit this particular model?
That answer is much more complex, but it starts with the slashing of mental health and social programs that provided many of these people the tools and the services that they needed to prevent from reaching this place.
If somebody was sleeping in the bushes outside of my business every night and creating an environment that was unflattering to my livelihood, I would be upset as well. The problem is, short of investing a lot of energy and a lot of money into creating workable solutions – the kinds of solutions that went away for “budgetary” reasons a long time ago – there isn’t going to be much of a change.
So, unless we’re okay with tax dollars going to fund a shelter or provide other services that would serve these groups – cough, yeah right, cough – then what we see is what we’re going to have.
And complaining without offering any sort of workable solution, or even a basic understanding of the problem at hand, isn’t going to help.
A well-oiled machine?
It might be a little bit early to say this, but things at the business meetings of the Manteca Unified Board of Education have been a lot tamer recently.
It wasn’t that long ago that board members were trading barbs publicly and operating with behind-the-scenes agendas that led to factions and friction that, ultimately, cost the students of the district of the leadership that they deserved.
Could that all be a thing of the past now?
We’ve definitely seen it before. The council chambers at Lathrop City Hall was, not all that long ago, the political equivalent of Thunderdome where anything seemed to go once one stepped inside – from snide personal attacks outright harassment.
But for some time now, Lathrop has been firing on all cylinders and the period of calm has helped the city position itself as an attraction option for developers and companies looking to relocate their operations.
Maybe this is a similar turning-of-the-page moment for the school board.
This will be tested in the coming years as the board grapples with a massive drawdown on general fund reserves that could leave the district without much of a safety net as early as 2020 if current trends hold. If that’s the case, and for some reason the influx of money from new development south of the Highway 120 Bypass doesn’t come to fruition, that new raise that teachers just got won’t seem like much when pink slips are on the horizon as the district grapples with budget cuts once again.
Because as we learned relatively recently, this is all dependent on the economy of expansion.
And that can be a fickle beast indeed.