I do not have great vision. Ask my optometrist Michael Lavieri. That said I am not blind.
I was running late to a Boys & Girls Club meeting Wednesday when a red light stopped me at 12:08 p.m. at North Main Street as I was headed down Alameda. Walking in front of my car were two homeless men. One was carrying an open and half empty quart bottle of Miller Beer. The other was drinking as he walked. No brown bags. No effort to hide it.
Turning onto the 100 block of South Maple Sunday after stopping by the Auto Zone there was a cluster of homeless at the dead-end by the Tidewater Bike Way with one of them making a jabbing motion into their elbow.
On Friday I was shown a smartphone video of a homeless man, hands in front of him standing against a wall of a downtown business obviously urinating. I clearly did not see the actual act but after he walked away the person videoing the incident circled back and took a photo of the puddle that was left behind.
Last Thursday as I made my way past the Best Western at the entrance to the city at Yosemite Avenue and Highway 99, there was a disheveled guy that I’ve seen commandeer part of the concrete on the side of a nearby 7-Eleven shouting every few seconds the “F” word. Nothing says welcome to The Family City quite like that.
Also last Thursday while waiting for the light to change on a jog back from InShape City a clearly homeless individual whose eyes appeared more than a bit glazed over almost brushed me and then continued without looking to walk onto Yosemite Avenue.
This is the new norm for Manteca?
The worst part until it being characterized as such at Tuesday’s City Council meeting all of those incidents — except for the beer guzzling homeless walking down a North Main Street sidewalk at high noon the next day that got me to thinking — I was letting essentially become background noise.
I need to be absolutely clear on two points. I interact with the homeless perhaps not as much as besieged business people such as Inda Janus, Gary Singh, or the managers of countless endeavors such as Food-4-Less and Home Depot, but I do talk to say “hi” as I jog by and will every once in a while engage them in a short conversation. The point is there are homeless out there that aren’t “in your face’” as well as not blatantly and publicly flaunting laws. The sheltered and the unsheltered all need to adhere to laws that have nothing to do with their housing status such as openly consuming alcohol in public places or doing drugs. I get that cursing is free speech. And I certainly understand if your options to relief yourself are severely limited because fellow travelers in the world you occupy are there either due to mental defect, bad luck, drug addiction, or simply being adamant about refusing to follow the rules and eschewing the weight of working repeatedly trashed bathrooms over the years that were once made available to the general public. But is this something that the 9th District Court of Appeals can really be blamed for in Manteca and elsewhere in California and the other states their rulings cover or is it something we are letting get out of control because it’s easier than doing a full-court press within the legal boundaries drawn by Sacramento and the courts?
The second point goes to what may be the real root of the problem. Are we really pushing the limits that we legally can to avoid turning our streets into a place where nobody in their right mind would like their young children to experience or create a sense of apprehension among those who may not be able to defend themselves if such a situation arose or at least not feel intimidated?
In case no one has noticed the homeless are an issue throughout the community and not just a handful of select spots. How this city responds will be a defining issue in the next City Council election just as it was in the last election.
Most people now get you can’t legally run the homeless out of town, that it is isn’t a problem that’s unique to Manteca, it’s not a crime to be homeless per se, and that they have to do things such as eat, sleep and go to the bathroom just like the everyone else.
But what they aren’t getting is why certain things that have nothing to do with being homeless such as being stoned or drunk in public and littering the landscape with needles are being tolerated. Are we to assume everyone regardless of their housing status gets a pass now in Manteca for brazenly walking down the streets drinking alcohol, while flying high as a kite, or being in a semi-catatonic state causing them to walk zombie like into traffic?
People are coming around to the idea that the city is on the right path by working to establish a robust homeless resource center — minus any overnight sleeping accommodations — in the Inner City Action model of helping the homeless get off the street. While that is a highly effective solution and will be more so if and when the operation at 555 Industrial Park Drive is up and running it will only address part of the problem.
What people aren’t coming around to — and likely never will —is how brazen lawless behavior among some homeless has become.
Yes the Manteca Police have a thankless job. And yes the City of Manteca is between a rock and a hard place. But this is our community we are talking about.
It is why what is happening in the city parking lot behind the south side of the 200 block of West Yosemite Avenue is infuriating more than a few people.
What is going on there is probably the worst kept secret in Manteca. Merchants have seen it. Customers have seen it. High school kids have seen it. Council members have seen it. Apparently the only people who haven’t seen it are those who actually spend our tax dollars on a day-to-day basis.
And what have they seen? Drug use, alcohol consumption, public urination — you know, the usual stuff you don’t expect to see tolerated in your community.
Manteca Police can’t be everywhere but why does it feel that the powers that be have called off the proverbial dogs? Are the homeless out of fear of lawsuits now the equivalent of sacred cows?
It is clear that all is not going well in what is turning into our community’s equivalent of the Hundred Year War.
There is an expectation that certain minimal standards of public decorum as well as law and order need to be met even though we seem to be in the age of everything thing goes.
There are no illusions. Manteca’s hands — just like that of other California cities — are tied but they are not encased in a strait jacket.
Maybe it’s time to spend a tad bit of money set aside in general fund reserve on a real emergency — fighting to protect the heart and soul of Manteca. Make the homeless resource center a reality. And fulfill the other promise made to Manteca residents when two community resource officers were hired and stepped up enforcement of the laws was pledged at the same time.
The homeless are worth saving but so is Manteca.
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 email@example.com or 209.249.3519.