Mike Kelly works hard at his job.
Four days a week he makes his rounds throughout Manteca – stopping at each of the homeless encampments that he has uncovered in his nine months on the job as the city’s Community Resource Officer, and rousts people from their sleeping bags and tents just before they’re in danger of being in violation of the city’s municipal code.
It’s a thankless job for all intents and purpose. He has the play the role of both counselor and enforcer, good cop and bad cop – arresting some people who are blatantly violating the law, citing others, and helping even more.
And his hiring came from the Manteca City Council – who was being pressed hard by the community after homelessness became an issue – it was based off a recommendation by former Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion who knew that Kelly, who has long been the city’s booking officer, spent his spare time going out and helping as many people on the streets as he possibly could.
He’s taken homeless kids into his homes to live with his own family. He’s brought food and clothes to those who needed it. At a time when people were calling for the homeless to be locked up as the dregs of society that were poisoning an otherwise great city with their presence, Kelly was doing what he could to make sure that those who needed help got it.
But his job has become more difficult in recent weeks thanks to the efforts of a do-gooder that apparently doesn’t realize the difference between a hand up and a hand out.
While it seems like a noble idea, somebody purchased every homeless person in Manteca a tent and an umbrella as well as other necessary items like tents and sleeping bags – creating a whirlwind of problems for the one person tasked with managing an issue that is arguably one of the most complex that a municipality can face.
The issue isn’t that the people who needed them got them. It’s that now Kelly must somehow keep tabs on all those items and make sure that they don’t end up scattered around places like Library Park and the Tidewater Bikeway and other places where the homeless choose to bed down at night.
And he’s got a pretty good system down to make sure that people that need things actually get them as opposed to going without.
If somebody ever visits him with a need, he hands them a voucher that can be taken to The Hope Chest and turned in for whatever is written down – whether that’s new clothes, or a new pair of shoes, or a blanket.
It’s not because he wants to micromanage, but when clothes are just left at Library Park for the homeless – or anything is left for that matter – it’s picked through for the prizes while the rest of the items are left scattered about for somebody else to come and pick up.
It must be frustrating for Kelly, who will probably eclipse the century mark on his tally sheet of people he has placed in either treatment or housing since taking the job in July of last year, to invest so much in building the relationship with the homeless community, the non-profits and the community groups that want to help, and the residents and business owners who are fed up with a quality of life issue – only for it all to be dashed by a seemingly innocuous undertaking.
I’m not sitting here judging the people who find themselves in the positon of having to be added to Kelly’s binder of contacts. Whether it’s through lifestyle choices, metal illness or just good old bad luck, nobody ever wants to be a position where they have nowhere else to go but the street or the park or the dumpster behind the shopping center.
And in the times that I’ve been out with Kelly on his routes, it puts everything that I personally have in my life – a home, a new car, a family, a closet full of clothes, a warm bed – into perspective and creates a sense of humility that at times I’m sorely lacking in my life.
There but before the grace of God go I, or something like that.
But one also should consider the notion that people purchase into the idea of what Manteca is when they buy a home or start a business, and part of that idea doesn’t include makeshift encampments outside of their library or people rifling through their garbage for recyclables because that is their only way to get enough money to eat.
So, for as much the residents have to recognize that it isn’t against the law to be homeless – and the city can’t legally kick people out of public areas at night when they’re trying to sleep – the homeless also need to realize that they’re part of a community too, whether they realize it or not.
And that’s where Kelly comes in, handling the thankless job of enforcing those laws and those rules when most other people sit back and complain.
If you’re feeling particularly helpful and you want to do something for the homeless community go to the City of Manteca’s website, look up his contact information, and email or call him and see what you can do that won’t conflict with what it is that he’s doing daily.
Nobody is saying not to help. But there are already channels clearly defined by those who make it their goal to assist, and when those channels are bypassed, it undercuts all the work that is being done by dozens of people to administer the aid necessary to the at-risk populations among us.
Just something to keep in mind.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.