Drive by the Manteca Library on Center Street after the sun goes down.
If this is a typical night of late you will see a fairly orderly gathering of perhaps a dozen people silhouetted against the wrought iron fencing securing the courtyard gathered on a wide expanse of sidewalk.
Tuesday evening there was a woman seated in a low-slung lawn chair bundled up against the early evening coolness with the distinct glow of a smartphone screen reflected in her face with a knitted ski cap pulled snuggly against her forehead. Others were sitting cross-legged or reclining with all of their worldly possession piled in a neat fashion nearby.
They were well away from the main sidewalk that borders Center Street where oblivious motorists encased in climate controlled 3,000-pound plus cocoons passed by with more than a few clearly multi-tasking as the telltale sign of a LED screen lighted their faces as they drive.
What strikes you as you take in this street scene are not the homeless gathered as much as it is how neat it looks — at least at the start of the evening — and how their clothing and possessions are devoid of bright colors.
It may not have been by design, but with this particular group of homeless that have banded together leave the impression they want to be invisible.
It makes sense, in a way, as those in the community continue to homeless-proof property — enclosing and securing trash bin areas, replacing mature shrubbery that camouflages resting spots with less intense landscaping, and securing areas such as the library courtyard behind them or even places such as behind Paseo Villas along the 120 Bypass — that we will start seeing more and more homeless out in the open.
By conversing with homeless I know, what is popping up nightly in front of the library is not a group of social misfits — as defined by the standard of a homeless guy I’ve engaged time-to-time on jogs down the Spreckels Avenue bike trail — or homeless with severe mental or substance abuse problems. Instead he describes them as a mellow lot.
There are a lot of homeless out there that fall under his description as being “a mellow lot.”
Given the last official count in January placed the homeless at 218 in Manteca and the number of homeless that seem to be creating issues with people beyond the fact they are simply breathing is likely 10 to 25 percent of that number, there are a lot of homeless in Manteca that try to stay under the radar as much as possible.
I passed the ragtag group in front of the library Tuesday night returning from a City Council meeting where one of the big topics of discussion was trying to establish a more robust homeless resource center or — dare I say it — a drop-on shelter that would obviously be primarily for homeless adults with the vast majority being male.
While the courts and state legislature are backing local jurisdictions into a corner if they want to enforce what is best described as quality of life laws, the council is kind of in a fantasy world.
They know any solution they could get in place is likely a year away at best.
But what they seem not to grasp is even with a resource center — a shelter might be a bit different in terms of community-wide dynamics — that the 218 homeless in Manteca have to go to the bathroom at some point at least once if not more times a day.
The No. 1 can be problematic if it is done against a wall. I’d venture to say such needs are taken care off on grass, landscaping, or dirt for the most part.
The No. 2 is a different matter, and as some like Manteca residents Steve Breacain have astutely pointed out, creates a situation that flirts with public health as the byproduct of having to do the No. 2 can be a conduit for the spread of diseases that can create a serious threat not just to the homeless. So far so good but we are pushing our luck.
No one in their right mind thinks that the vast majority of homeless want to do the No. 2 in public settings.
Rest assured they will try to “wait” if they can until a park restroom or some other public facility is open to take care of a basic human need. They will access businesses that have restrooms that are open to the public but many have restricted such access mainly because of the tendency of homeless to also want to clean up when they get a chance and end up leaving restrooms a dirty mess. I’ve seen photos a merchant took of a restroom after a homeless individual took an impromptu “bath’ using the sink. As he explained, if you can’t get to the mess right away to clean it up it creates a situation that prompts paying customers not just to complain but not to return as they believe that represents the type of business you operate. That is in addition to the fact it takes more time to clean bathrooms than normal adding to the cost of doing business.
You would be amazed at the number of homeless that make their way throughout the day to the portable toilet at the fueling station on Moffat Boulevard at Cowell Avenue. Others opt to overnight in the Spreckels Park BMX parking lot lawn area given there is a portable toilet there.
While most by now know it is almost a daily issue for some in the downtown area to have to clear the outside of their buildings of all signs of the No. 2 as well as the No. 1 before customers arrive, it is also an issue elsewhere in the city where business doorways, courtyards, or other architectural nuances provide a degree of privacy.
So why, you might ask, doesn’t the city invest in $50 or so a month per portable toilet on a trial basis to see if it works and place them in strategic areas and in spots where they don’t stick out like a sore thumb?
With 218 homeless people in town the odds are overwhelming that dozens of times during a day when they have to do the No. 2 they can’t get access to a restroom.
Bear with me for a moment as we play a shortened version of the Family City Feud.
QUESTION: What is the number one reason city managers over the past six years and other key city leaders have given as to why they don’t think portable toilets should be placed in a bid to get the homeless to use them?
ANSWERS: “No. 6, some homeless might take shelter in them. No. 5, it will attract more homeless to Manteca. No. 4, the homeless will just make a mess. No. 3, it sends the wrong message. No. 2, the homeless will just do drugs in them. No. 1, the homeless and others will have sex in them.”
I wish I was making this up but those are the top six answers people who get paid a lot of tax dollars will give to bat down even trying a trial period of portable toilets.
Even if it reduced the No. 2 out in the open by half and helped do the same for the No. 1 it is a huge improvement and reduces some of the dirty work that responsible property owners handle.
But what should concern you more is that anyone can reject such a proposal out of the gate on the assumption — based on past observations or not — that portable toilets popping up around Manteca will somehow increase drug use and sex and if so constitutes a bigger public health hazard than someone doing the No. 2 at night in bushes around the Manteca Library.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.