Welcome to San Joaquin County, Homeless Haven USA.
Talk to a few “non-local” homeless and they will tell you basically the same thing: It is easier being homeless here in Manteca and other San Joaquin County locales because it is less of a hassle.
Dig a little deeper, and you will find out it is generally the same reasons a lot of people move here: low crime and a greater sense of safety, friendly and generous people, and the weather.
Don’t laugh. It’s true. It’s just that those things have a different take when you are on the street as opposed to having a roof over your head.
Take crime and safety. You may be scratching your head right about now given that a good share of homeless have to commit quality of life crimes to simply function. And more than a few even with receiving general assistance or disability do resort to stealing whether it is tossing out the content of Toters to pilfer recyclables with a nickel a container redemption, causing massive property damage by stripping copper wire, or good-old fashioned stealing of stuff from yards and stores. It should be noted those are also crimes committed by druggies that lack the resources to support their habits.
When it comes to crime, the concern most homeless have is they are less likely to be a victim of a crime in Manteca than say San Jose. They are less likely to have things stolen from them here primarily from other homeless and are less likely to be attacked. If you worry about your house being secure while you sleep, just think about the anxiety level of sleeping overnight in bushes, in an alley, or a dumpster.
The streets of Manteca are less mean than the streets of San Francisco. If you doubt that, ask yourself is it safer to spend the night on the streets in what passes for one of Manteca’s “rougher” neighborhoods such as Southside Park or in Hunter’s Point just north of Candlestick in The City?
As for people in Manteca being more generous, just ask the panhandlers who drive to Manteca from places such as Modesto and Stockton. Over the past three years, I’ve spoken to seven parties (some are a woman-man team while one was a family of four) who do just that including one man who is a fairly regular sign flyer for those leaving the Costco parking lot. Every one of them said they can “earn” more money in Manteca than Stockton or Modesto. Interesting to note, though, only two volunteered they were homeless in the manner most of us think of homeless — living in their vehicles on the street or freestyle camping. Actually the guy that was camping was paying for a camping space “by a reservoir” in Stanislaus County. The point is all panhandlers aren’t homeless. They are panhandlers including one guy that has his own place that he rents here in Manteca using what he says is a “generous disability” check. Whether that is the source of his money or not, he was honest enough to say his panhandling was buying him items such as an i-Pod and other “luxuries.”
The weather is a given. It’s difficult to freeze to death in Manteca.
The issue comes when the homeless repeatedly break quality of life laws that apply to everyone or commit low level misdemeanors involving theft and such. They have discovered they can operate with virtual impunity San Joaquin County.
Sheriff Steve Moore and the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors believe they have the answer to that part of the homeless puzzle which also is the answer to reducing other crime issues — replacing the honor farm at the county jail with a medium security facility for $40 million.
The day-to-day operating costs wouldn’t increase as existing honor farm staff would be used. Assuming the legislature doesn’t hijack the $250 million the governor set aside for such facilities that has $32.3 million earmarked for San Joaquin County, the sheriff would have 470 more beds to hold people citied for property crimes that can’t post bail and to incarcerate them if they are convicted.
Currently if you are homeless in San Joaquin County and are arrested on charges of stealing and a bail is set, you are likely to be booked and released until your court date due to lack of jail space. Then 30 days or so later, that is likely to get delayed. And then, if you are convicted, the chances of serving out a full sentence in jail is pretty slim given capacity issues.
Moore noted that the homeless arrested for stealing have a tendency to keep stealing while awaiting court. And, when all is said and done, a guilty verdict that brings a year’s time in county jail may end up being only a week or two due to jail capacity issues.
So where would you want to be homeless? Or, for that matter, a two-bit criminal that isn’t homeless?
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.