So how goes Manteca’s efforts with the homeless?
For a clue, drive by Library Park and Wilson Park in downtown Manteca.
You won’t see many homeless hanging around with piles of stuff or setting up quasi camps by stashing their belongings under bushes
This is not magic. This is not discrimination. It is the result of your taxes at work.
Parks and Recreation maintenance crews have trimmed back bushes in Wilson Park. The city has posted park closure times and deployed security cameras that allow them to go after lawless acts committed primarily by those who use the homeless as cover to sell drugs. Gathering places hidden from view were taken away via the wrought iron fencing for the library courtyard. It’s not 100 percent perfect but the level of safety and overall appeal shouldn’t make anyone hesitate about taking their kids to Library Park to use the playground equipment or enjoy the interactive water play feature when it becomes available. The two parks in general are an appealing place just to hang out for a while under the shade of the stately `sycamore trees as spring takes hold.
While a lot of credit goes to organizations that work with the homeless it would not have happened — especially on the scale that it has — without the deployment of Manteca Police community resource officers.
They do much more than just work to connect the homeless with services, drug diversion programs as well as relatives willing to take them in or keeping pressure on those committing what might be called high-profile quality of life crimes by breaking the rules that everyone has to follow.
There is another element that can’t be quantified that the CROs have put in place. Call it “reasonable pragmatic cooperation” while adhering to the department’s philosophy that in many instances the spirit of the law is what is important and not the letter of the law.
The homeless have not disappeared from Manteca. And anyone who thinks that will ever be the case in this community or much of California and the rest of the world need to get out of their little Pollyanna world. There have been homeless since the dawn of civilization. There are homeless in much wealthier communities such as Pleasanton. The bottom line – the homeless are not going away nor is it a crime to be homeless.
So where are they sleeping?
Most have figured ways to become invisible with a bit of gentle prodding from the CROs. It’s not a scram or you’ll get cited approach. It is built on respect. Not only do the CROs treat them for what the homeless are — fellow human beings — and connect them with services and family when they are ready but they also get them to think about how they can reduce negative attention or “violate” laws without creating problems.
By that it is bedding down for the night without attracting attention. For example they could all crash in commercial districts where there are wide sidewalks such as downtown or along Yosemite Avenue east of Cottage Avenue between the hours of 11 p.m., and 6 a.m. as anyone legally can or they can find more pleasant places that are less obtrusive.
Such is the case of the homeless that make their way each night to the Spreckels Park BMX area at Spreckels Avenue and Moffat Boulevard. Last week on three successive nights after 1 a.m. there were no less than five vehicles parked there with people sleeping as well as more than a few folks without vehicles bedded down on the grass. They are typically up and gone by 7 a.m.
It is a public park that legally is closed essentially from sundown to sunrise but no one notices them due to the location. As a bonus it has a portable restroom.
They don’t leave a mess behind. They aren’t vandalizing anything. They are discreet. Are they violating the letter of the law? Absolutely. Are they embracing the spirit of the law? Yes.
The law calls for parks to be closed during those hours for health and safety reasons such as avoiding vandalism, discouraging crimes from being committed and neighbors from being harassed with unacceptable noise and other issues.
As long as a code of conduct is being followed and they aren’t creating problems it makes more sense for them to bed down at Spreckels Park where it is technically illegal to do so than along Yosemite Avenue during the hours when it is legal.
That brings us to the next step at reducing what might be described as “homeless” conflict. The homeless who stash piles of stuff around Manteca or who carry it with them create a multitude of problems, some involving the law and some not involving the law.
Imagine if the city made the old vehicle maintenance building on Wetmore Street available for the homeless to store their stuff. Model it after successful Southern California programs where 96-gallon refuse carts could be made available for the homeless to store their belongings in that they can access daily for an hour or so in the morning and an hour or so at night to place and retrieve items as they need them.
Since there is plumbing in the building they’d have a place to go to the bathroom and possibly take a shower.
Homeless not lugging tons of stuff around and having the ability to handle daily grooming and hygiene in a more conducive manner would reduce them from sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb. It’s worth a try.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.