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Homeless strategy No. 5: Educate Manteca residents about problems
letter to editor

 An amazing thing has happened in the 800 block of East Yosemite.
In the past three weeks the 7-Eleven has gone from being a magnet for homeless who borderline aggressively panhandle and set up shop in front of the store and an adjacent tanning salon to one where panhandlers have dropped almost to zilch.
What happened? Was it stepped up police enforcement? No. It was education.
In front of the store is a balanced and courteously worded sign that does not disparage but simply asks people to refrain from giving money to panhandlers due to safety concerns for customers and nearby neighbors. There indeed have been moments in recent months where panhandlers were getting aggressive and were targeting women in particularly because they might be more easily intimidated simply by being approached and not necessarily getting an “in the face” treatment. It’s a subtle form of coercion that the courts say is perfectly legal.
Aggressive, of course, is in the eyes of the beholder but as more and more homeless/panhandlers flocked to the location, there were more than a few that were clearly aggressive and lingered way too long.
It is a problem that plagues more than a few places.
The placement of the sign has significantly improved the situation. Ask a few people who used to give money to panhandlers outside the store as we did. They said they didn’t stop and think they were helping create a situation that was intimidating others.
It is why the fifth strategy to get a handle on homeless concerns the city should pick up and run with is education.
It has always been a stated component of the Manteca Police Department’s effort but it needs to be put on steroids. The effort of the community resource officers has included small brochures they give to the homeless as well as others delineating various services that are available to them. They have been working trying to help those they encounter dropping off food and clothing at parks that’s not part of an organized outreach to understand how their actions are undermining efforts to help get people off the street.
Perhaps the city working with merchant associations, shopping center owners or through the Manteca Chamber of Commerce can encourage others to follow the lead of 7-Eleven in a bid to reduce homeless hangouts that are created in commercial zones due to panhandling. It may add a bit of workload to someone at the city to head up an effort for a few hours or so on a weekly or monthly basis but it can help save the city a lot of work.
Check call logs to see how often police are called about homeless hanging around stores that refuse to leave. Often they are there to panhandle. Given police officers are the highest paid front-line city employees, anything that makes them more efficient or helps free them up for other calls is being cost effective.
No one is claiming this will eliminate the problem. But if it reduces the problem it will be a success.
It is also why the city needs to follow through and place “no panhandling” signs as they did at the off ramps of Highway 99 at Yosemite Avenue and at the 120 Bypass off ramps at Airport Way, Union Road, and Main Street. Yes, we get that a panhandler will still sit or stand next to the signs occasionally. The message, though, is aimed at educating the people who illegally give panhandlers money in the posted areas.
Panhandlers aren’t stupid. They work areas where people are willing to give them money. Along the Bypass these are primarily local residents returning to town.
One reader suggested that perhaps the signs be a tad clearer by using less formal wording stating why it is illegal given it is a safety and traffic movement issue in addition to obligatory references to municipal code sections.
At intersections with traffic signals where it is illegal to panhandle, the city might want to consider erecting signs in the medians where panhandlers have been known to fly signs on South Main Street and East Yosemite Avenue near the freeway.
A rendering of someone sticking their hand with a dollar bill in it out a car window with the universal circle with a slash through it would be appropriate.

IN MONDAY’S BULLETIN: Forget cries of “don’t fence me in.” The City needs to encourage people to “homeless” proof their property.