Don’t look now but Manteca — as well as every other California city — is about to become long-term victims of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s edict on how local authorities must treat illegal homeless encampments during the pandemic health emergency.
The edict, in short, is they cannot move illegal homeless encampments on public property for the duration of the COVID-19 health emergency. The reason is that making them disperse would increase the chance they would be exposed — or they could expose others — to the coronavirus.
It is clear that COVID-19 is not going to become a ho-hum illness such as most strains of the flu anytime soon. Let’s assume an effective vaccine was developed by July 1. Does anyone think that there would be enough production capacity and immunization to reduce the deadliness of COVID-19 to vulnerable populations that include the homeless by the end of 2022?
Newsom has used the pandemic to first go on a leasing spree of motels to house the vulnerable homeless and now on a buying spree of hotel property for the same purpose.
If you think this is a solution because on the face it appears humane, guess again.
San Joaquin County is spending $798,000 to rent 76 hotel rooms for 56 days for the vulnerable homeless as ordered by the governor. That cost doesn’t include any damage the guests might cause. Now Newsom is using the same program to force local jurisdictions to purchase motels to house the homeless.
First, do the math. The last point-in-time count put the number of unsheltered homeless in San Joaquin County at 1,558. At best, the motel solution gets a tenth of the homeless off the street for about $2,625 a month per homeless individual. You could rent the most expensive three bedroom apartment in Manteca in the Tesoro complex for that price, house six people (two to a bedroom) and have $300 left over each month. There wouldn’t be much involved in moving costs since a dozen if not more homeless are free to live on the other side of the complex’s sound wall along the freeway right-of-way thanks to Newsom’s edict.
Buying a motel complex doesn’t improve the numbers much because you would then have to do the maid service, maintenance, and hopefully run a program besides warehousing the homeless.
I get the point is to shelter the homeless in place during the pandemic but there is a huge disconnect between the challenges of dealing with the pandemic and the challenges of working with the homeless that are on the streets.
Organizations that deal with the homeless could probably put that money to use 20 times more effectively and work on helping the homeless become productive citizens and support themselves. But the real truth is once the pandemic response gets through blowing a mega-hole in government budgets for the next decade or so there won’t be much money left for programs that actually are designed to change the lot of the homeless instead of putting them up in motel rooms.
In just the 65 days since Sacramento made illegal encampments off limits from enforcement, the number of makeshift homeless “housing” has popped up all over Manteca.
City officials who now have both proverbial arms tied behind their backs between court orders and state edicts scrambled to try to address a basic issue — sanitation.
Now that more homeless are setting up shop they are going to the bathroom in the same areas. Manteca decided to rent portable toilets to address the issue but soon discovered almost every other city caught in the same Catch-22 was trying to do the same thing.
The result is they were able to secure only one portable toilet that they placed near the growing homeless encampment along the Tidewater Bikeway by Library Park.
That, by the way, brings us to the ultimate flaw in Newsom’s orders — his refusal for any local input on what makes sense for a city dealing with the homeless that is not simply trying to make life miserable for them.
Are homeless encampments along bike path corridors now legal for the foreseeable future? Or are parks — of which the Tidewater Bikeway is one — off limits because they are closed to everyone after a certain hour? Perhaps the bikeway is seen by the state as being no different than Caltrans right of way along freeways.
Whatever is the case there is clear and growing danger to the quality of life in Manteca given illegal homeless encampments along the Tidewater now appears to be sacred cows in the eyes of the state. Google the phrase “illegal homeless encampments along Orange County bike trail” and see what you find. You can get a good sense of what could take root in Manteca. It is far from being pretty, healthy, or safe.
The bike paths the homeless took over in the OC ran right behind homes just as they do in Manteca.
The question is simple: Did anyone at city hall get clarification about city parks and illegal homeless encampments from Newsom’s office? Or, worse yet, did they correctly deduce that they had to let the homeless encamp somewhere on city property illegally and it was better along the Tidewater than having a 24/7 encampment in front of the library or even at Woodward Park?
Regardless if you are living anywhere near the Tidewater, the precedent has been set for the homeless to camp illegally wherever they want along it for the duration of the COVID-19 health emergency based on what is being allowed along the downtown segment of the bike path.
Should illegal encampments indeed have a “hands off” directive from the state for two years or more and they continue to grow with more homeless setting up tents, what other health problems will that create that could make COVID-19 seem like a minor issue in comparison?
These are not concerns of a governor who appears at times to come up with grandiose ideas, orders them implemented on the local level with no local input of any consequence, and then throws money at it so Sacramento can look like they are doing something.
We already know the dim view Newsom’s office had of the city trying to actually help the homeless by his refusal to allow the sale of the Qualex site for $1 to Manteca because he wanted the property put back on the tax roll.
Now we are saddled with the governor’s solution which is burning through large sums of cash renting motel rooms while allowing the remaining 90 to 95 percent of the homeless the state lacks funding to rent motel rooms to shelter as well as to essentially set up house where ever they wish.
It did not have to be this way. But Newsom’s staff decided that Manteca’s solution that not one member of the California Legislature objected to and many lawmakers lauded as innovative would set a dangerous precedent of taking property off tax rolls and cost government too much money.
Maybe Sacramento’s problem was it didn’t cost enough money and it was too successful compared to brilliant ideas that they come up with.