Huddled against a wooden fence next to the Sinclair gas station on East Yosemite Avenue wrapped in a blanket to brace against the late January morning chill sat an older woman, perhaps in her mid-50s.
Next to her also huddled on the ground was a somewhat younger man. He had his arm around the woman as she shivered slightly. Neither of them looked up as I jogged by.
I had seen her hours earlier nonchalantly trudging along the sidewalk in front of the Bulletin shortly after midnight arms crossed grasping a drab looking oversized overcoat that served as her last line of defense against the mid-40 degrees night air. She obviously had issues. Everyone has issues. The homeless are no different than you and I in that aspect. It’s how we choose to deal with those issues that make the difference.
Just a mile away the woman could have spent the night not walking around Manteca in a bid to stay warm but actually sleeping in the warm tent pitched by Inner City Action where it is a relatively cozy place with temperatures kept in the 70s.
There are a good number of people — roughly 30 to 40 or so a night — taking advantage of the warmth, meals, a chance to clean up, sleep without anxiety, and to be treated as human beings. A number of those will eventually embrace what Inner City Action offers and start on the journey to get off the street and stay off.
The warming center, when it wraps up March 31 at the end of the local emergency declared due to the homeless on the streets being exposed to the cold will likely end up costing more than $100,000. The bulk of the money comes from donations to augment $25,000 the city put up to help pay for fuel to power generators that are helping keep the tent warm.
Who, you might ask, in their right mind would forsake a warm place on a bone chilling night to lay their head?
How we — as in the courts, the California Legislature, and Gov. Gavin Newsom — answer that question will dictate the impact on both our pocketbooks and the overall quality of life in our communities.
We are in error if we devote all of our energy and resources to try and get the homeless like the woman and even her companion off the streets.
It is much more pragmatic and effective at reducing homeless issues in the long run if we concentrate on preventing people from becoming homeless.
That’s not to say we abandon those on the streets. It’s just impractical to believe mankind is ever going to eliminate homelessness by simply building enough shelters with adequate beds.
There are a lot of homeless that are resisting the option of a warm bed in Manteca today. And while it is a function of people moving around town as much of anything else, the homeless setting up housekeeping along the embankment of the eastbound 120 Bypass in greater numbers with each passing day.
Inner City Action in conjunction with Manteca Police is doing an admirable outreach effort.
But it is clear that those with a stubborn streak — addicted or not — including those who aren’t too lost in a mental fog are resisting.
While it is true you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink that is only half the story. Most animals at one point will get thirsty and drink the water. That’s not the case with the hardcore homeless.
Once you understand that you will appreciate the folly of Sacramento issuing edicts that communities shall eliminate homeless or the wrath of that questionable body of wisdom that clearly lacks street smarts and operates on pie-in-the-sky solutions instead of the much more mundane pragmatic solutions will come crashing down on cities primarily comprised of law-abiding citizens with a fairly good grasp of what it takes to be able to live as part of a society.
As a society — at least in Manteca — there are a lot of resources aimed at helping people from losing shelter or those already tallied as being homeless.
Food closets primarily operated by faith-based organizations such as Love INC by helping address essentials relieve pressure on stressed household budgets. Manteca Unified offers homeless students tremendous support.
One can argue you can never do enough. True. But that is why the need for education to access better paying jobs comes into play. The idea is to get people to help themselves by taking advantage of what is offered them such as schooling.
All of this runs contrary to what many in Sacramento are now seeing as simply a lack of political will and/or action by local jurisdictions. Mandate cities take action and that will magically solve the problem.
It is why the voice of reason is the 9th District Court of Appeals.
In letting stand a lower court decision regarding a jurisdiction legal authority to essentially roust homeless sleeping or camping on most public property that has been deemed illegal under local laws, the judges set an extremely clear standard. Such laws cannot be enforced against the homeless if the community lacks available beds where they can sleep instead.
The court was careful not to say a bed had to be available for every homeless individual. Instead if there is a bed in a local shelter available then such laws can be enforced.
It means the homeless can’t have their cake and eat it too.
Based on the efforts so far with the warming center that includes Inner City Action essentially running a free van service to various encampments, it won’t take anywhere near 218 beds — the number of the most recent homeless count – to allow the city to enforce it laws regarding codified behavior that pertains to everyone when the homeless are in violation.
Once Manteca gets a drop-in homeless shelter in place, the homeless won’t be able to simply do what they want when it comes to camping or where they sleep on public property
That said how do you get the woman by the Sinclair station off the street if she continues to refuse to take advantage of shelter after a drop-in facility is created?
The short answer is you can’t as the state and courts through various initiatives have turned such homeless virtually into untouchables.
It is why the California Legislature needs to be pressured not to do their magical wand act and decree cities have a year or so to eliminate homelessness under the threat of financial penalty.
By building a drop-in shelter Manteca will have the legal authority to put pressure on the hardcore homeless just as they can on documented gang members.
It’s not a stretch to connect the two given how both elements deteriorate the quality of life within a community.
The hardcore homeless should not be an excuse for the city to do nothing.
But at the time — as the courts have made clear — if a city does take reasonable steps in regard to shelter options and the hardcore homeless opt not to take advantage of it they no longer will be conferred sacred cow status.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org