There are the homeless in Manteca who are “real” problems in terms of drug and alcohol use, not to mention those that engage in copper theft and such.
Then there are those who are simply trying to survive the hand they’ve been dealt without drawing attention to themselves. Being homeless isn’t a crime. They have a right to exist, same as you and me.
For decades, Manteca has sidestepped issues involving the homeless who are law-abiding, including:
• legally congregating at Library Park due to its central location and availability of restrooms;
• going to the bathroom in public places;
• and de facto camping by keeping what they collect but can’t carry hidden in bushes 24/7 in places such as the Spreckels Historical Plaza.
Those who assist the homeless – outreach workers, community and church groups, as well as individuals – like Library Park since it is where the homeless congregate. It is also relatively safe for those assisting the homeless.
There is little stomach for a single-adult shelter in Manteca. Rare is the person that wants it in their neighborhood or next to their business. There is also a fear it would lure homeless from other communities.
At the same time, there is frustration among many that Library Park is not reaching its potential as a community gathering place because it has become the unofficial homeless park. People might be able to live with that, but the park was purposely designed to draw kids and families with its interactive water play area, extensive playground, and proximity to the Manteca Library. It is also in a highly visible location.
Law-abiding homeless can’t be driven from Library Park if they are simply congregating.
The solution might just be giving them a place of their own that is centrally located, relatively safe, and has amenities that they’d access. For example, it is illegal for anyone under 12 to use the interactive water play feature but it is highly likely the homeless wouldn’t mind a shower now and then.
Where could Manteca create a homeless park that is centrally located and isn’t infringing on neighbors or businesses? An almost ideal spot is within the city’s corporation complex on Wetmore Street just east of South Main Street.
The city could cannibalize plans for a parking lot area just east of the new vehicle maintenance building.
It doesn’t have to be a big area. And whatever space they need for city operations that is lost they can carve out of property adjoining the corporation yard the city bought for a criminal justice complex that isn’t going to materialize.
The homeless park should have restrooms with showers equipped with faucets that cut off automatically after four minutes, grass, trees, benches, garbage receptacles, and a bulletin board posting available services along with law enforcement concerns involving the homeless. To be useful as a gathering spot it should also have electrical outlets. It should also be secured with the type of wrought iron fence placed near the skate park so that it can’t easily be scaled. That’s because, like other city parks, it would be closed from dusk to dawn. Police could clear it out and lock the park down each night and city workers could open it in the morning and do whatever maintenance is needed. Security cameras like the one at the skate park that don’t store recordings but are monitored at police dispatch can also be installed on nearby buildings to provide park security.
The park would be open to all, although it would have somewhat different rules. The prohibition against temporary camping – sleeping with a bedroll for example – during the day would not apply.
You could also have the solid waste staff conduct three-times-a-week redemption windows of 15 minutes or so next door where the homeless can bring recyclable cans and bottles to redeem them for cash or gift cards.
The improvements could cost $500,000 or so.
How would Manteca pay for it?
It could come from the current park fees assessed on new growth or some of the lease payments being made by Big League Dreams.
It won’t solve all of the problems associated with the homeless in Manteca but it would address a good share of the ones connected with those who are homeless and are doing their best not to violate the laws.
It would also take pressure off of Library Park if the homeless have a place where they can access outreach services, use restrooms, possibly shower, and congregate during the day without feeling like everyone is trying to pressure them to move.
The homeless problem is where the gang problem was in Manteca back in 1991.
Then-Councilman Wayne Flores – not exactly the most popular politician ever elected in Manteca in the eyes of some – constantly talked about doing something about the city’s gang problem. He was told it was minuscule by fellow elected leaders, city administrators and even the district attorney’s office.
Now there is a big gang problem we are fighting to control. We can use the same head-in-the-sand approach to the homeless and 20 years from now enjoy homeless problems that rival Stockton’s.
It is our choice. Try to do something now or pay the price later.
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.