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Homeless camping in city park that doubles as a Safe Route to School
PERPSECTIVE
tidewater camping
A homeless individual takes advantage of low branches and overgrown vegetation to camp within feet of a Safe Route to School and municipal bike path that is part of the City of Manteca’s park system — the Tidewater.

I have a new neighbor.

He moved in about two weeks ago.

He’s kind of a minimalist.

His carbon footprint appears to be much lower than mine.

My path crosses his twice, six days a week.

His red portable camp chair in front of his humble abode is usually empty.

But I know he’s home.

That’s because he’s asleep.

His choice of bedcover is a blue plastic canvas.

Welcome to the reality of not living in a high-profile neighborhood.

The homeless, it seems, can take up residence at will.

Do not misunderstand.

The guy has never done any “harm”, as far as I can tell.

Most of his neighbors — those that are housed — pretty much take live and let live attitudes.

That is, to a degree.

Going back a decade or so when no one seemed to notice there were homeless in Manteca that used neighborhood alleys as open toilets for both the No. 1 and No. 2.

They literally lived in nooks and crannies adjacent next to two schools, Manteca High and Lincoln Elementary School.

At one point, they had taken over the playground, the group picnic area, and Lincoln Park’s additional parking lot next to the fire station along Powers Avenue.

The group picnic was there go to place for communal meals.

The homeless, if you pay attention, often buy food at the stores besides 7-Elevens and their convenience store cousins.

They used the BBQ at the group picnic area after hours when the park was closed to cook meat and stay warm.

I mentioned this a few years back, and a nearby Food-4-Less employee shared how one homeless man at the time was a “regular customer.”

It was in the evenings. He’d walk in, select a packet of meat, and walkout without paying.

Employees were instructed not to confront him due to safety concerns.

Yes, the non-homeless shoplift and do so in numbers that would likely make the homeless seem like law-biding citizens in comparison.

Those that once used the auxiliary lot to set up overnight camping used to drive neighbors on the other side of the sound wall crazy. Not because they were homeless, per se.

It was due to noise through the night and occasionally the odor of the No. 1 being carried by the prevailing breeze into their yards and houses.

Up until a year ago, truckers were parking up and down Moffat Boulevard, creating safety hazards for pedestrians trying to cross the street at either Powers or Cowell avenues.

Truckers were also working in engines and such.

The city addressed the safety issue — and the eyesore — by outlawing truck parking and robustly enforcing it.

The trucks also provided cover for the homeless to “camp” along the Tidewater.

Neighbors — and other Manteca residents — during this time stopped using the segment of the Tidewater, which is a city park, as they were uncomfortable about their safety due to the homeless.

Most were women.

I might add I wasn’t uncomfortable but I was always on guard jogging or walking past the temporary encampments.

But neither point matters.

The 9th District Court of Appeals has allowed cities to close parks to all people during certain hours and to ban all people from camping in city parks.

The city, to their credit, is continuing to work on getting the homeless the services they need to take away what legal excuses the courts have provided to allow them to treat large swaths of a city like their personal bedroom instead of taking advantage of free shelter.

That first step — portable dorms at the 555 Industrial Park Drive site — should be in place early next year.

Hopefully after that, the homeless navigation center on nearby property the city bought at Carnegie Court can be actually up and running before the start of 2026.

In the meantime, the city needs to continue to keep the pressure on.

They can start by making sure that a primary route that easily four or five dozen students take to and from Manteca High and is also used by cyclists, walkers, joggers, and skateboarders of all ages that passes through a city park — the Tidewater — is free of homeless squatters.

The easiest way to do that is to remove low hanging branches and vegetation that has overgrown to create “homeless blinds” that can mask low-key homeless camping spots, even if they are used only for a few days at a time.

This is not about harassing the homeless.

Instead, it is making sure all city parks regardless of their location or the neighborhood they are in can enjoy the same level of concern when it comes to illegal uses.

And while some will say putting a dollar amount on city efforts regarding the homeless is unfair as one may not do so involving city expenditures regarding other segments of the population, to do so with the homeless is to make a point.

This city spends almost $1.1 million a year to provide not just a central place for services and food during the day but also a secure fenced in area with an armed security guard where the homeless can camp and feel safe while progress is made on shelters.

That fenced in area is less than a half mile from where the Tidewater segment in question is located.

Yes, some homeless don’t want to follow the rules.

And when shelters are in place and there is room at “the inn” they will lose their legal right extended by the court to camp in many public locations.

But until the city needs to minimize the ability of the homeless to set up camp in parks or along a primary Safe Route to School of which the Tidewater along Moffat Boulevard meet both criteria.

 

This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com