Four years ago the stance Manteca’s elected officials had toward the homeless could best be summed up in six words given in response to suggestions the city work toward establishing a drop-in homeless shelter. The words were, “build it and they will come.”
On Tuesday no one on the City Council flinched when Interim City Manager Miranda Lutzow proposed eventually creating a program manager in her office tasked primarily with overseeing municipal efforts to deal with homeless issues in Manteca.
That means the day is quickly coming when positions dedicated basically to getting a handle on problems and issues involving 0.26 percent of the city’s 85,000 residents will cost at least $500,000 annually in reoccurring general fund salary and benefit costs. That’s the expense the city would incur for two Manteca Police Department community resource officers dedicated to homeless issues and the proposed program manager.
To put that in perspective if the city spent money at the same per capita rate as it does for Manteca’s 218 documented homeless based on the January 2019 point in time count, the city’s general fund would be blowing through $170 million a year as opposed to the current $42 million.
This is not a slam on dedicating that much money a year to the city’s most vexing problem. Far from it especially if you were able to put a price tag on the daily costs of dealing with homeless issues that is incurred by the rest of the police department, the fire department, parks staff, solid waste, Manteca Ambulance, Doctors Hospital, and countless businesses.
It does, however, illustrate that finding programs that can make a noticeable dent in homeless issues beyond limited progress made so far is not going to be cheap.
The real question is what is the city’s plan?
We know they’ve hired the two police positions to work with homeless in a bid to get them to voluntarily get off the streets to keep a class action lawsuit filed by the homeless — led by an abrasive, guitar strumming, foul-mouthed, self-centered individual who gives the unsheltered all a bad name — from draining the city’s bank accounts.
And we also know they are working toward buying the former Qualex property at 555 Industrial Park Drive as a venue for the establishment of a navigation center to help connect the homeless with services as well as drop-in location with beds so police can enforce a repertoire of laws that apply to everyone but they can’t against the homeless unless there is a place they can go to basically sleep.
But what is the plan as this is starting to look more and more like a piecemeal approach cobbled together on the fly just as the current council accuses their predecessors of doing on a wide of municipal issues and concerns.
One would think at the very least the city would be vetting exactly how the Qualex property would be used.
Inner City Action has success at getting people off the street and turned into contributing and self-supporting citizens. And while they stepped up at the city’s request to open a warming center through March 31, their forte is not running a drop-in homeless shelter.
In fact, they may not be able to run a drop-in shelter because the rules they impose are much more stringent in terms of what is expected of the homeless than your standard drop-in overnight facility.
Whether they will want to run a drop-in shelter that is key to meet the conditions of the 9th District Court of Appeals ruling in regards to what communities must do before police can start enforcing homeless less compliance with a long list of quality of life laws that apply to everyone is an unknown.
Buying a building — even one you are hoping to score a state homeless grant to purchase — without a general blueprint for a program in place is akin to buying a vehicle before you’ve decided whether you need to pull a horse trailer, haul three quarters of a soccer team to bands, haul dirt, keep long distance commute costs down, or as a sport two-seater getaway car.
Will the Qualex building work as a homeless drop-in shelter?
The city obvious plans to — or at least one assumes that -— provide the building, fix it up, maintain it and such and then contract with an organization to run a drop-in shelter. Do potential candidates think it will work? Sorry but input from periodic homeless summits is not the same as devising a game plan for the city to pursue.
The city through its redevelopment agency arm already has a checkered history with the Qualex building. The city has sunk over $5 million of tax dollars into it on the idea of converting it into a 57,000-square-foot police station. There was never a well-thought out plan with contingencies or else the city wouldn’t have walked away from a $5 million investment that disappeared into thin air although you do have an aging building with a long fix-it list. The city is moving down a path of easily investing another $3 million into the same building. Even if much of it ends up being covered by a state grant, it is still tax dollars.
What happens if the city buys the building and rehabs it and then can’t find anybody to run a homeless program that dovetails with the city’s objectives that for obvious reasons due to sue happy folks needs to be devoid of any effort that presses faith-based solutions? Inner City Action can offer up concrete evidence faith-based programs work better in getting the homeless off the streets. But there is the issue of drawing a line between government and religion the city needs to navigate in order to reach a fairly sizable segment of the homeless population. If that creates a problem and no non-profit can be secured is the city prepared to run a homeless drop-in shelter?
To be blunt, the reason the 555 Industrial Park Drive acquisition has gained traction has little to do with the functionality of the building for a homeless drop-in shelter. Instead it is because it offers the least politically damaging site the council could pursue.
Manteca doesn’t have the luxury of doing nothing, or next to it, beyond what they are doing now that was the direct result of having the prospect of a seventh-figure federal court lawsuit pointed at them.
The homeless problem is not going away. The Supreme Court has made it clear the threshold local jurisdictions must clear in order to enforce certain laws against behavior the community deems as unacceptable.
Manteca does not have a well thought out holistic plan for dealing with the homeless other that networking available services. Much like municipal staffing over the years they are doing it on the fly.
That may suit the council’s level of political comfortableness but it should make taxpayers cringe as the council could end up burning through a lot of money with little or no progress.
It is especially true given the council is more than eager at re-buying the biggest money pit in Manteca that has already consumed $5 million in tax dollars without anything to show for it.