Running errands Sunday — as well as jogging — took me over a fair wide swath of Manteca on Sunday.
Between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. I came across 15 homeless, none of which were visible in downtown although the one-legged guy pushing a cart while crossing Powers Avenue against the light at Yosemite appeared headed that way.
Among the homeless were two women — including one that was part of a homeless couple that pulled into a South Main Street convenience store to buy breakfast. One was walking, one had a pull cart contraption (the wandering homeless guy with the sign “ain’t no nation like a donation) whose photo graced the front page of Thursday’s Bulletin, and 11 were on bicycles. Most looked at least semi-presentable and able-bodies. The farthest south one was found was on Woodward Avenue near Woodward Park and the farthest north on Louise Avenue between Airport Way and Union Road.
I was tempted to count Ray — the guitar-playing homeless guy that blocked the sidewalk near the East Yosemite Avenue McDonald’s until Manteca Police gave him orders to clear out repeatedly triggering his class action lawsuit against the city for violating the rights of homeless by, among other things, not providing free shelter for single adults. I came across him, though, on Saturday night at the access drive to Jack-in-the-Box and Applebee’s where he very nicely tried to get my attention by blocking my view of traffic as I was attempting to safely turn onto Yosemite.
All in all, a typical lazy early fall Sunday in Manteca.
It underscores the homeless aren’t just a downtown problem or one limited to newer neighborhoods.
It also is a good indication that the homeless number is well over 100 at any given time in Manteca.
Being homeless per se is not criminal, Manteca can’t legally run them out of town, homeless have been around since the dawn of civilization, and changes in state laws driven by voters reduced the ability to jail many who commit crime as a means of support. At the same time Manteca has avoided health issues — and most public safety issues — surrounding the homeless although that could clearly change. The growing Hepatitis A problem in California’s coastal cities spread by the homeless can easily migrate to the state’s interior.
Unless the homeless are able to use restrooms in gas stations, fast food places, or parks they end up going in the streets, alleys, behind buildings, and in bushes in public areas or private property.
If police catch them in the act, they could cite them but what good would that really do?
If you conduced a poll of the city’s 75,000 plus residents that aren’t without shelter, the odds are 100 percent – or close to it — would prefer the homeless don’t take care of business in Manteca’s great outdoors whether it is on private property or public land. At the same time most of the city’s true homeless would likely prefer not dropping their pants wherever they can find a spot when they have to go to the bathroom.
The homeless going to the bathroom outdoors in Manteca is nothing new.
And while many would prefer the homeless would just disappear, that is not going to happen.
It seems the next logical step would be the strategic placement of rental toilets and wash basins throughout Manteca. If such an effort can reduce the amount of human feces and urine deposited outdoors in Manteca it would be worth the city contracting with a port-a-potty service. If such a toilet-wash basin combo in Wilson Park behind the Post Office could reduce night-time nature calls in the central district when restrooms the homeless access are closed, it would make life easier and more pleasant for merchants and residents alike that have to deal with the mess on a daily basis.
It isn’t going to end such problems but it should make a dent.
The second step would be locating a day center for the homeless to go to the bathroom, shower, take steps to get off the street, and to store the bulks of their belongings that can be retrieved and out away on a daily basis. A single adult shelter which the city cannot block and must allow in at least one property zone under state law without applying for a use permit — the City Council chose industrial areas — would more likely serve as a magnet to draw the homeless from other communities.
And where ever such a day center might end up — Oak Street across the railroad tracks from downtown and the Manteca Industrial Park are two spots non-profits have been quietly venting — it could encourage many of the homeless to bed drown for the night in areas that are within a reasonable walking distance.
But for a day center to work, it has to be located where most homeless can access it. Given most are on bicycle or foot — the rest are living in vehicles — putting such a place on the outskirts of Manteca is a nonstarter.
The goal needs to be making the state of homeless not being detrimental to the public’s health and safety without being too accommodating. Solutions that benefit both the homeless and non-homeless need to be explored and exhausted first.
And at the top of the list are strategically placed port-a-potties and portable sinks throughout Manteca as well as a day center.