No one wants a homeless anything — individuals sleeping, encampments, navigation center, shelter, you name it anywhere — near their neighborhood, place of business, or even church.
Yet the only path open to Manteca — and every other city under the umbrella of the 9th District Court of Appeals — is a tight rope act requiring balance, consistency, and persistence.
Manteca’s leaders, at least for now, appear to be willing to walk that tight rope even though it will bring them negative pushback regardless of how successful they are.
In order to legally enforce quality of life laws that run the gamut from homeless people plopping down and setting up housekeeper seemingly at-will on public property to public defecation, trashing the community and more a city like Manteca needs to have available beds for the homeless.
The court decision doesn’t mean they have to have a bed per se for every homeless individual before they can enforce certain laws or force the homeless to move along. A city simply has to have available beds. If there is one available and a homeless individual opts not to use it in a particular night, they’ve essentially surrendered their de facto right to basically do what they want for all practical purposes to survive on the streets.
Manteca’s approach involves not just a drop-in shelter but a navigation center aimed at getting the homeless off the streets and into jobs. There will be tiny houses serving as transitional housing for those homeless committed to a path off the street. There is even a long range target of building additional affordable housing such as the Juniper Apartment complex on Atherton Drive.
The city, after five years of debate and false starts, appears to be moving forward with establishing a permanent navigation center in a bid to at the very least stop homeless ranks from growing and ideally shrinking them. No one realistically — unless you are in Sacramento — believes homelessness can be wiped out.
The best you can realistically hope for might be to push it back to the level it was at 15 years ago. Even that can’t happen without a stepped up, concerted effort targeting the homeless.
The city now had a $2 million grant they can use to purchase the $1.6 million, 8-acre South Main Street site. Barring someone coming up with a less expensive site in or near central Manteca with as much “cushion” from nearby homes, stores, and employment centers the South Main Street site is the best answer.
That’s not saying the situation is ideal.
But it is the best site with the best chance of working assuming the city diligently works to minimize potential impacts.
The first litmus test is the site plan.
The site plan is critical to minimize impacts on the community, particularly nearby neighborhoods.
Yet the consultant they hired has come up with a proposed site schematic virtually screaming that it will become a bigger problem than it need be.
The city retained the services of a consultant that specializes in the nuances of the layout and needs of homeless navigation centers.
It is clear from their schematic they are not experts in reducing impacts such a navigation center will have on the community.
The schematic that the city will start pitching Tuesday, July 27, at 5 p.m. during a workshop at the Manteca Transit Center designed to get community input may be great for the homeless but will be problematic for everyone else.
It provides access to the homeless navigation center and shelter directly from the section of the South Main Street corridor that is shared with a neighborhood. It pushes the affordable housing component — that could be an effective buffer to the homeless operations — to the northern end of the property.
What needs to happen is the affordable housing likely to eventually be apartments to be built on the western half of the property fronting South Main. Separating the apartments — as well as existing neighbors — from the homeless shelter, services and transitional 80-square foot tiny houses should be a 7-foot masonry wall.
Access to the homeless services would be from the east off of Carnegie Court.
This will accomplish a number of things.
*In the event the shelter is full, it won’t create the St. Mary’s in Stockton effect along South Main Street. That’s when there are no available beds and the homeless want to be close to services such as meals so they set up housekeeping on nearby sidewalks.
*It will effectively secure nearby property from the homeless cutting fences for shortcuts that has happened at the location where the temporary tent shelter is now.
*It would allow the city to secure the overall homeless component. This is critical if the city decides it needs to provide overflow courtyard bed space under an outdoor canopy at some point in the future.
The consultant, focused on the best options for the homeless and not creating a site that gives the city the best flexibility down the road, apparently did not include such as option.
The open court sleeping arrangement has been effective at getting a number of homeless off the streets in Las Vegas when there aren’t beds available or they aren’t 100 percent ready to commit to a program to get off the street.
They have access to bathrooms and showers as well as a place to store their belongings.
Even more important it is a setting where the homeless feel secure as it is fenced off.
This is not to say that Manteca will ever have such an offering. And it is clear it can’t replace what a navigation center/homeless shelter and transitional housing will be able to do. Having such an option might come in handy when its 2032 and Manteca has 110,000 residents and potentially a larger homeless problem.
As much as nearby residents and businesses will want to make “not in my backyard” their bottom line at Tuesday’s community workshop, they really need to pressure the city to make sure the site design and development has minimal impact on their neighborhood.
That’s because it is clear the South Main Street site — thanks to it being vacant, its size, where it is located, and minimal potential issues with surrounding property — is the best and arguably the only practical site in Manteca for a homeless navigation center.
The real issue is for our elected leaders to make sure it is done right by the community and not be smitten with the siren song of consultants or city staff that has little or no experience of what it is like for the average resident who lives, works, shops, and plays in Manteca.
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 email@example.com